Life’s What Happens does for Kent State students what Derek Robinson’s Piece of Cake did for WWII pilots in 1939. A large cast of characters, often irreverent, teasing, hard-working and hard-playing, comes to life in the first part of the novel where students ponder what the future might bring, and threats of a draft lottery begin to loom large. The photographer, the dissector of dead cats, the poor rich guy and the newly successful poor friend, and more, live out their everyday lives against a backdrop of eateries, drink, tests and dreams. Girlfriends abound, and the relationships have that vivid teenage immediacy of indestructibility and rebellion. But destruction looms large.
The day of the lottery is captured in photos by the photographer, and becomes hauntingly real to the reader as numbers are called and accidents of birth offer the destruction of dreams. But life goes on, through physical exams, unanswered appeals, the folly of regulation, and the sudden danger of overwhelmed emotions.
An innocent trip downtown turns disastrous near the end of the novel, and tension rises with the terrors of historical events, making this novel truly haunting and hard to put down. The author wisely keeps politics out of the picture, telling just the story of real people, caught in an unreal situation. By the end it’s clear that nobody ever sees the future, and all of us see differently when we look back at the past. I’m glad to have seen through the eyes of these students, through the words of this author. And Life’s What Happens is highly recommended.