Our narrator is Charles Ripley, a typical suburbanite in Chula Vista, California - right near San Diego, three-miles from the Mexican border. He works for a defense contractor and lives a dull suburban life with his wife. Things change when new neighbors move in next door. Their names are Ruskin and Sybil Marsh, and Charles takes the time to invite them over for a drink in their first night in the neighborhood. The couples hit it off, and a transformative friendship is formed.
The first chapter (a flash-forward in the novel’s greater timeline) spoils the trajectory of the book, and the paperback would have been better if the reader could have read about Charles’ evolution more organically. Instead, you’re told right off the bat that things get rather violent for the people in Charles’ immediate orbit.
Despite this foreshadowing misstep, The Happy Man is a really well-written novel. The story of Charles and his conflicted relationship with his new neighbors made for compulsive reading. It was particularly fascinating to see how the new neighbors altered the behavior of the entire subdivision based solely on the force of their influence. Things get decidedly wild as the book heats up - both sexually and violently. Swingers parties. Secret societies. Drug use. Mysterious murders. And things way darker.
It’s not a perfect book. The big revelation about the neighbors wasn’t all that surprising and the sudden shift to a culty horror novel was a bit clumsy and abrupt. Despite all that, I found myself enjoying The Happy Man immensely. Recommended.