It Happened in Boston? by Russell H. Greenan
Published by: Random House
Page Count: 304
Genre: Literary Fiction
My Reading Format: Audiobook provided to me by the publisher for consideration.
Audiobook Published by: Blackstone Audio
Narrator: Robert Fass
Audiobook Length: 10 hours 59 minutes
Available Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, and Audiobook
Summary from the Publisher:
First published by Random House in 1968, Russell H. Greenan’s It Happened in Boston? is the story of a brilliantly talented, unbalanced artist who strives to meet God face-to-face in order to destroy Him. It is “a magic spell of a book—phantasmagoric, lushly written, full of unforgettable characters and brilliant twists of plot,” writes Jonathan Lethem in his Introduction. With a vivid depiction of the art world and a breathtaking narrative that incorporates forgery, time travel, and murder, Greenan’s hilarious and disturbing debut novel—now an underground cult classic—is ripe for rediscovery.
I had never heard of It Happened in Boston? before narrator Robert Fass contacted me about this project. After hearing Fass’ story on publishing the audiobook and doing some research on author Russell H. Greenan, I decided it would be worthwhile to give this audiobook a listen. I hadn’t gotten far into the audiobook at the time I interviewed Robert Fass about the project, but I was already enjoying it. The novel’s narrator, a man who gives many names to his neighbor’s son but remains unnamed throughout, is a magnificently talented painter living in Boston in the 1960s. He was trained by a classical painter and from the very beginning I was delighted by the passages describing art and the making of art. I don’t consider myself an art lover, but novels about art and artists are some of my favorites. For me, It Happened in Boston? paid off from the beginning.
When the novel opens, we meet the narrator as an artist who no longer creates art. We learn along the way that he has become consumed by personal heartbreak and spends his days in what he calls reveries, daydreams so vivid he almost believes he’s traveled to points across the globe and time with the automatic ability to speak the native language. There is something off about the narrator and, while one wonders what is real and what is fantasy, I was intensely interested in the unfolding story of his life and work. He was a highly ethical man who talent that could have net him fortunes if he weren’t. As he and his friends are met with misfortune, his desire to hold God accountable grows. In his heart he asked a question asked by so many. He wanted to know why good people suffered. As the complete story unfolded it was horrifying to see the lengths that the narrator would go to to show God how unjust and wrong God was.
Robert Fass worked hard to make this audiobook edition of It Happened in Boston? a reality. It came to me as no surprise that this passion for the novel would come through in his narration. This was my first time listening to one of his audiobooks and it was a pleasure. He gave voice to characters both young and old distinctly and well. I especially love his work with the character Beels, whose role in the story was wonderful in and of itself. For me, discovering this book and Fass’ narration were equal gifts.
While this audiobook was just released last month, reading this book cemented my resolve to focus on backlist titles. I have become too focused on new, shiny releases and, while many of those are excellent reads, I’ve never read anything quite like this. I love books about art, but in this book Greenan created some of the most beautiful and arresting works of art in my mind. I would love to be able to see the narrator’s classical paintings or Littleboy’s Birth of Death with my eyes, they are forever now in the gallery of my imagination. They are just as real there. I know this for sure because there are moments in this book that tore my heart out. Then there was the narrator and his determination to meet and destroy God. As that story line developed, his thoughts on God and justice turned into a twisted Don Quixote quest which overtook him. I couldn’t help but be fascinated and horrified.
If you haven’t read It Happened in Boston?, you must. This novel provides so much to think about and replay in your mind. Robert Fass’ narration provided the perfect medium for experiencing this story of art, betrayal, and the desire to punish God. Once you’ve read it, you will want others to as well. This is a book you need to talk about.