Is happiness something we can achieve by sticking to a set of behavior changes for twenty-one consecutive days? Can each unhappy family unlearn what makes it unhappy in its own way with a few simple tweaks?
So says Hap, Alan Hapgood’s self-help enterprise fronted by four young, fun, fantastic-looking Harvard graduates. As the happiness industry’s rising star, Hap is on top of the world despite a hobbling economy; all it needs is a replacement member of the team.
Enter Daria Rahill, broke and burned by the myth of meritocracy. She initially can’t believe that the Hapsters would consider her and her sorely lacking pedigree. But she quickly learns that Hap is an impeccably executed scam: what the principals share beyond painful family histories is a cynical belief in revenge as the ultimate human motivator.
As Daria stumbles through her Hapster training, she realizes that Alan Hapgood’s mysterious past is the key to his acolytes’ strange pursuit. A tragic miracle has set in motion Act 2 of Alan’s life. When someone from Act 1 appears to take down the wall between then and now, he sets out on a second odyssey—less to save his skin than to bring about the spiritual salvation of his “family.”
Alan Gleason’s end-stage cancer went on longer than anyone on his Dana-Farber team could believe.
All the blaring television could tell Alan was that insurgents in Kirkuk were continuing to kill Iraqi police.
Ted Brand walked onstage in a hazmat suit. Being that his audience was Columbia freshmen, they laughed.
There was comfort to be found in the verticality of the red neon Ernst & Young sign visible down Seventh.
Jude’s Leica was given to him eleven years ago by his rich and famous father, the composer and investment mogul who stopped providing for his firstborn when Jude finished Harvard at twenty-one.
Daria arrived for the interview more confused than nervous. When she got a call from Romana Hernandez saying that Alan Hapgood would like to interview her—interview her even after that bizarre session with his Family the week before—she almost said no.
Ted Brand usually met Brother Frank at the Halal truck off Sixth—the one that cast its roasted chicken spell over a good part of Midtown.
Four days after her interview with Hap the man, Daria received a text from Mariette Bonilla at 6:25 a.m.: “You’re hired. Get yourself in here for training at 10.”
“Mr. Hapgood,” chimed The Whiskey Priest upon secure delivery to Hap’s table. “Good morning teh yuh, sir.”
The research-supported fact that people are less inhibited out of doors was Ted’s rationale for commandeering Daria’s training session to Central Park.
Jude persuaded Ted to accompany him to the wine store that required a detour from Ted’s customary walk to the Q.
Daria’s morning destiny was a second meeting with her PhD tutor in some Starbucks cluster of metal chairs in the atrium lobby of a ginormous bank.
Because Jude had been traveling between Chicago and St. Louis, Daria’s training with him was delayed until the Tuesday following her first week at Hap.
They called the office three floors below theirs “the storefront”—they being Hap’s central players.
The sepia-tinged lamplight showed Anik’s face to be distressed. “I can’t believe you brought me here, Mr. Hap.”
Walking around the bed in Mariette’s bedroom brought you in contact with other furniture. Things swished, discarded sweaters fell off of wicker chairs.
Daria did not feel at home in her new office. It had a window, but she always felt someone was standing behind her back.
For some reason, he knew right off. He didn’t recognize her from anywhere. She was a large woman and apparently had become more so during two years without work in Newark.
The early spring had been a false one, but by the 7th of May, things were set to right: days had turned to the outside, where, nearing dusk, Brother Frank might still be found for a warm hello before retiring to his room with a bottle of gin, WNYC, and the complete works of someone meriting a close reading via Dollar Store highlighter.
Amtrak delivered Ted to Penn Station right on time at four. He debated whether to catch the subway home or stop in the office, but heading home this early felt strange, so he opted for the office.
The morning after Eugene Chen failed to jump to his death from his sister’s apartment building on Cathedral Parkway, Romana buzzed Alan to say, “That Tracy lady’s on the phone, Hap. She says it’s important.”
It was the end; how could he remain in denial?
Hap himself was the lead indicator.
Despite telling Jude that he needed to spend a day thinking what to do, Alan already knew Wednesday night.
When they got off the Pike at Copley, Alan had expected to drop Daria at the subway, but she insisted on staying with him.
Daria’s friends Gabriella and Rolfe were pregnant—they were also pissed that they couldn’t drink infused vodka and uncomfortable in their favorite chair from West Elm.
Mariette had been told many things over the past few days, none of them by Hap. For whatever reason, he didn’t think it important that she be kept in the loop.
“Is this something private?” Jude was standing in the doorway of Alan’s office.
Alan now remembered how much he couldn’t stand fluorescent lights. “You too?” he asked, blinking.
Daria made her way to the office half-asleep. She had stayed up late, drank too much, and was hung over from crying for a four-hour bus ride.
That Terry might pay someone to finalize his death—that was a proposition that never once occurred to Alan, though in the end it made perfect sense.
On Day 22, Daria heard a text arrive at the crack of dawn; it was from Mariette, asking the showpeople to meet her at the Red Flame for breakfast.
How many lives are too many for one person to navigate—one and a half? two and a half? How many not enough to make the schlepp toward Bethlehem bearable?