Reading Joseph Riippi’s debut novel, Do Something Do Something Do Something, is a lot like hearing Nirvana’s Bleach on vinyl might have been in 1989. We get a glimpse, as other reviewers have noted, of a writer whose potential is yet to be fully realized (and, thus, whose best works are probably ahead of him), and whose raw talent, creativity, and energy are palpable on every manic page of the book. Yes, Riippi has a somewhat maddening fondness for stream-of-consciousness paragraphs that go on for pages at a time, and, yes, he cheats a little by relating at least a third of the narrative through the eyes of a narrator who turns out to be completely unreliable, but such peccadillos are ultimately forgivable, especially in light of the fact that he’s only taking the kinds of risk that all great writers take when walking the high wire of great literature. (Faulkner, anyone?)
The novel focuses on three characters whose loosely connected lives suggest that none of us are alone in the struggle to make sense of the world. In one strand of the narrative, a woman with a starfish tattooed to her breast visits her brother in a mental institution and subsequently embarks on a journey into her own difficult past. In the second strand, a dramatist wrestles with the emotional impact of the dissolution of his marriage following the death of his infant daughter. In the third strand, an arts critic finds himself committed to a mental institution after attacking a stripper. Though only the first and third strands come together directly (the woman with the starfish tattoo is the sister of the committed arts critic), all three narratives complement each other in terms of both imagery and thematic content.
The title of the novel speaks to the existential angst of all three protagonists. As one character notes fairly late in the novel, “Hope is the only thing that makes us do anything, and doing something is the only way to happiness.” The only problem for the characters, however, is that hope is in short supply and that “doing something” has the ironic potential to eliminate hope — a fact that becomes especially clear when a dark skinned man boards an airplane and a panic-stricken racist starts screaming at her husband to “Do something! Do something! Do something!”
What is especially clear throughout Do Something Do Something Do Something is that Joseph Riippi is a student of the human heart and a keen observer of emotional complexity. His characters are all broken in some way, yet he has the patience to follow them on every step along their crooked paths to wholeness, even if said wholeness is no more than an illusion. A strong debut novel in the tradition of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and, to a lesser extent, The Catcher in the Rye, Do Something Do Something Do Something is, with any luck, a precursor to a body of work that will shine new light on the darkest recesses of the human heart for years to come. I’m fairly certain this Joseph Riippi guy and I would get along well.