1st Edition

Unhappy Beginnings Narratives of Precarity, Failure, and Resistance in North American Texts

Edited By Isabel González-Díaz, Fabián Orán-Llarena Copyright 2023

    This book offers the analysis of a selection of North American texts that dismantle and resist normative frames through the resignification of concepts such as unhappiness, precarity, failure, and vulnerability. The chapters bring to the fore how those potentially negative elements can be refigured as ambivalent sites of resistance and social bonding. Following Sara Ahmed’s rereading of happiness, other authors such as Judith Butler, Wendy Brown, Jack Halberstam, Lauren Berlant, or Henry Giroux are mobilized to interrogate films, memoirs, and novels that deal with precarity, alienation, and inequality. The monograph contributes to enlarging the archives of unhappiness by changing the focus from prescribed norms and happy endings to unruly practices and unhappy beginnings. As the  different contributors show, unhappiness, precarity, vulnerability, or failure can be harnessed to illuminate ways of navigating the world and framing society that do not necessarily conform to the script of happiness—whatever that means.



    List of Contributors


    An Approach to Unhappy Beginnings.

    Isabel González-Díaz and Fabián Orán-Llarena


    1.     Nomadland: A Narrative of Class and Age Vulnerability in the 21st Century.

               Aitor Ibarrola-Armendariz


    2.     “They endured”: Precarity, Vulnerability, and Resistance in the Works of Jesmyn Ward.

                Paula Granda


    3.     Happy Endings and Unhappy Beginnings: Representing Precarity and Vulnerability in Recessionary Comedies.

                Elena Oliete-Aldea


    4.     The Road to Serfdom: The (Unhappy) Neoliberal Workplace in The Assistant.

                 Fabián Orán-Llarena


    5.     Disaffected Archives: Jacqueline Woodson’s Cruel Attachments in Red at the Bone. Paula Barba Guerrero


    6.     The (Un)happiness of Urban Indigeneity in Tommy Orange’s There There.

                Martina Horáková


    7.     Trans-forming Transness: The Failed Dissident Body as (Non)Human Political Possibility in Kai Cheng Thom’s Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars.

                Juan Carlos Hidalgo-Ciudad


    8.     Of Morrissey and Other Antisocial Icons: Unhappiness and Failure in Elliott DeLine’s Refuse.

                Isabel González-Díaz


    9.     Stigma, Vulnerability, Unhappiness, and Abjection: How Angels in America Reconstructs AIDS Politics of Silence.

                J. Javier Torres-Fernández


    10.  Powers of Failure: The Catcher in the Rye Against Early Neoliberal Rationality.

               Julia Rojo de Castro


    11.  Reimagining Hope in the Age of Despair: The Films of Roberto Minervini.

               Juan A. Tarancón


    12.  Affect Theory and Life Narratives: Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali’s Angry Queer Somali Boy: A Complicated Memoir and Samra Habib’s We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir.

              Silvia Caporale-Bizzini


    13.  Run, Rabbits, Run: Post-Racialism, Modern Slavery, and Slow Violence in Jordan Peele’s Get Out.

               Víctor Junco Ezquerra


    14.  Cold Feelings: Apathy, Difference, and Withdrawal in Herman Melville’s White-Jacket. Arturo Corujo





    Isabel González-Díaz is a PhD lecturer at the University of La Laguna, where she teaches US literature. Her research interests include gender, literature, and cultural studies, with a special focus on life narratives. She has published various articles on life writing and gender, on feminism and cultural studies, and on transgender narratives.

    Fabián Orán-Llarena is a PhD lecturer at the University of La Laguna. His research interests include cultural studies and film studies, with a special focus on contemporary US film and its representation of the politics and history of neoliberalism, the rise of right-wing populism, and the post-9/11 context.

    This book has enormous potential to contribute to deconstructing racial, gender, class, and physical disabilities biases through literary and cultural studies criticism. It shows a unique perspective in approaching themes of unhappiness and failure. As the contributions in the monograph stress, reading stories of “failure” and “unhappiness” as characters’ rebellion against the harshness and elitism of all sorts of normative frames is more than a way to unmask the unjust social practices: it can also open constructive debates necessary for redefining such social practices.

    Nadira Puškar Mustafić, Assistant Professor, International University of Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina

    This monograph offers an important contribution to contemporary theories within the field of affect studies as it proposes an innovative methodology for the analysis of North American texts that challenge the normative concept of happiness. By focusing on a heterogeneous set of narratives of unhappiness, the monograph aims at questioning forms of oppression in North America, which enriches the field of affect theory.

    Rocío Carrasco Carrasco, Dr Philol at the Department of English, University of Huelva, Spain