Ray, your average corporate slave at an Ikea-esque furniture company, is depressed. What’s more, he’s convinced that everyone around him is depressed, whether they admit it or not. On a whim one morning he creates an employee survey to measure the unhappiness of his colleagues, claiming the survey comes “from the top.”
From there the story is interwoven with a narration of the next couple days in Ray’s life, his amusingly cynical observations about the world around him, and his answers to the survey he created.
In writing Why Are You So Sad?, Porter satirizes the social norm of pretending everything is just great. In the United States, the expected response to “How are you?” is “Fine, and you?” Any other response will throw a person for a loop, myself included. When I worked in customer service, every once in a blue moon (actually, less often than that), someone would respond to me, “How are you today?” with “Oh, not very good, but thanks for asking.” Our society, at least American society, is not accustomed to acknowledging unhappiness in everyday life, and Porter addresses this issue in a refreshingly comical way.
What I really loved about the book is that Porter knows what depression is all about. While he adds humor, he does not sugarcoat it. One of my favorite passages of the book discusses the difficulty of getting out of bed in the morning:
Waking up is like reversing a burial; I was a Cartesian brain alive in a coffin, aware of my own thoughts and the requirements of the living, but with no will to rise and proceed with my life.
Anyone who has been through a prolonged bout of depression will recognize the feeling of being powerless over your own body in the morning. I’m impressed with Porter’s ability to capture this feeling so accurately.
TL;DR: This novel is just delightful. And it doesn’t take long to read either, so there’s no excuse not to pick it up!