1943 happy-zombie novel: I Am Thinking of My Darling

William Smith, proprietor of Hang Fire Books, reviewed "A really fascinating novel" from 1943 called I Am Thinking of My Darling by Vincent McHugh. I just bought a copy on Amazon for 12 cents.
thinking-of-darling.jpgOriginally published in 1943, the book is about a happiness virus that spreads across New York City like a plague. The disease makes the afflicted lose their inhibitions, act like they perpetually have 2-3 drinks under their belt (without slurring or clumsiness, they're sharper in fact), and extremely resistant to doing anything they don't want to do.

Sounds more like a paradise than a plague right? Problem is that only 10-20% of the populace feel like doing their jobs anymore so law enforcement, public safety, garbage collection etc, go right out the window. And--though the author's description of crowd euphoria is appealing and not conservative or reactionary--some people's euphoric impulses are dangerous to themselves and others.

The protagonist of the novel is a civil servant who's promoted to acting Mayor when the former gets the virus and heads back to Westchester to build model trains. He loves the city in all its particulars and he loves his job (which is why he keeps going even when he gets the virus himself). His wife is an actress who evades him for the entire novel (because her bliss is to take on a series of elaborate character parts) and the chase takes us on a grand tour of the uninhibited city.

The novel feels extremely contemporary and realistic in the city's response to a disaster (so much that I almost put it down after the 50th motion was put before a board, argued about, voted and passed). And the author's descriptions of euphoria and ideas about what happiness means are entertaining and thought provoking.

The book is basically a zombie novel except instead of a walking corpse the infected turn into Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby.

I Am Thinking of My Darling (Hang Fire Books)


  1. Wow that is exactly the movie I was going to post about (seriously)! But IIRC there was no downside in that movie to being ‘happy’ — kids eagerly went to school to learn, to the pleasant shock of their teachers; the price of smokes tanked because everyone quit; etc. The only problem IIRC was the happiness caused by being near a certain exotic bird (?) might wear off.

  2. Actually, there were reprint editions in 1978 and 1991. All told, there are >250 copies in American libraries. We can all get reading!

  3. @Chip Kigar:
    don’t forget about “brain candy”. not quite the same but amusing nonetheless.

    “it was only a couple of flipper babies!”

  4. Vonnegut wrote a short story that was similar, except rather than a virus, the protagonist discovered a radio frequencey that (when tapped into) created a sense of happiness/contentment. And everyone just laid around and didn’t eat or drink just because they didnt feel like it.

    I can’t remember the name but i’m sure there’s a Vonnegut afficiando who knows the title.

  5. Vincent McHugh’s story “I Am Thinking of My Darling” was credited for the movie “What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?”

  6. @Dumase (#6): I remember it. It was aliens who’d dumped cannisters containing “happy gas” (for some reason I don’t remember). The protagnist was listening to them on a homemade radio, but before he could find out the locations his cat jumped on the antenna and squished, and he couldn’t get the same frequency again. I have it at home, in the first SF book I ever read – just can’t remember the title.

  7. Your review makes me want to read the book: thanks, Mark, as always, for your insightful etc. But I don’t understand your reference to Daisy Buchanan. Part of the dust which flew around Gatsby, surely? Daisy was brittle and cynical and certainly wasn’t happy: her husband kept on creeping off into the arms of other women and, right from the start of the book, Daisy is unhappy because of this – pretty much the original poor little rich girl. Gatsby was a slight diversion, a throwback to a simpler time. Yes, she acted without thinking; but when she did think, when her husband pointed out what an outsider Gatsby was, she pulled away from Gatsby and ran all the way back to their upper-class hell…

  8. #9:

    should point out, the review is not Mark’s, it is William Smith’s review of the book being quoted, in nearly its entirety. hence the blockquotes tag.

  9. #10: thanks.

    Mark, Sorry, my mistake. I get Boing Boing via RSS. No blockquotes in your post above – just one big paragraph.

  10. It’s been too long since I read Gatsby but I guess I was thinking of the character’s lack of morals/inhibitions and…you know crazy flapper dancing.

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