It was hard to watch this novel come to a close. There are times as a reader when you see what’s coming your way and wait patiently, other times you wish it would end and can’t wait until it does. The end of Happyland isn’t really an ending, as far as endings go, but it does sum up something that I think Mr. Lennon has touched on throughout most of the book. People don’t change, places and things do. Sure, Ruth Spinks changes things by leaving Equinox, she does it in a way that seems more like she is resolved to do it, not because she has to. Dave, the down on his luck owner of the Goodbye Goose has met his match, and he’s willing to spend some time in jail to prove he is weaker than everyone expected.
Happy Masters in her own way delivers the final blow to almost everyone in the town, whether she means it or not. It’s depressing to see how quickly things turn to steaming shit under her watchful eye. Kevin, her dumb as a sack of hammers henchmen gets his release from the mortal coil of Happyland when of all people, Dave in a rage, hallucinating his way to a showdown, helps uncoil Kevin’s life, and for that matter, Happy’s too. Janet, Happy’s trusty assistant, meek and unworthy of anything, goes her own way and finds a women who will meet her affections head on, this is subtle, but it’s a safe bet that Janet is the only person in Happyland to basically survive unscathed. Sure, she gets the sharp end of things from Happy when Janet is discovered in bed with Happy’s husband, but it’s a small price to pay for an emotionally sanitized character.
The town of Equinox, its college, and the buildings do change, they have bent nicely into Happy’s grip. But the people, they don’t change. It’s a great final chapter about a group of people who go through something interesting but remain true to themselves. Happy, even when the chips are down, is still a bitch, who acts like she does so she can get her way. The rest of the townspeople realize they are who the are, and nothing can change them.
Jason Rice: You said Happy Masters would get her just desserts…butreading this last part of Happyland, I don’t see how she did?
J. Robert Lennon: Well, she got a bit, don’t you think? I wasn’t going to crucify the poor woman. It’s nice when the powerful and corrupt have obstacles put in their paths, but in the end, almost all of them eventually get what they want. And realistically, nothing was going to keep Happy down. Besides, I like her. A little bit of me wanted her to win. So I let her win a little.
JR: When you were trying to finish this story, bring it to a logicalend, did it seem possible? I see that everyone has evolved through what Happy brought to town. How are you on endings in general?
J.R.L: I think there is basically no way to write a good ending. Sometimes a short story can have a good ending, but a novel? I’ve never written one. I don’t know many people who have. Anything definitive is a rebuke to all the other, equally appealing, possibilities. I think this is why so many eighties novels just stopped, instead of ended–it was the writers’ way of acknowledging the impossibility of ending anything. I kind of liked the ending of Happyland, mostly because it mixes the subtle with the outrageous. I like Ruth’s vision of jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, and Happy’s tat. But it is all necessarily imperfect.
JR: This certainly was an entertaining and exciting book to read. Compared to your other novels where does this one fall? And as a writer, you must have other things that haven’t seen the light of day. What are you working on now?
J.R.L: This is my only real satire, I think–I’m usually not so plotty. The novel I’m writing now is big on idle cogitation rather than action, though it is again about a big cast of weirdos. Mostly it focuses on two people, though–a documentary filmmaker and a 23-year-old methcooker. I was kind of bummed to learn recently that meth is kind of a thing right now–there’s a TV show, I’m told. But what are you gonnado.
JR: Mr. Lennon, you’ve been a sport…thank you.
J.R.L: You’re welcome! I hope that people will eventually be able toread Happyland in book form…until then, I’m glad Harper’s has their pages online.
This is a wonderful novel and you everyone should run to Harpers website to read it.