book review: Happy are the Happy

happy are the happy

Happy are the Happy By Yasmina Reza.
Other Press| January 2015.|148 pages |$20.00| ISBN: 978-1-59051-692-8

Rating: 3.5/5*

Beautiful cover art. Superb concept. 20 short chapters focused on different characters. Some characters resurface in each other’s stories. Darkness. The reality of relationships. Complications of life, of work, of love, of contentment. In this short-story collection few characters feel blissful. Most feel displeasure, discomfort and remain in dysfunctional relationships. I’m not sure that I think of the French as being overly ebullient. There’s lovely art, architecture and scenery in Paris and throughout France but Europeans are a serious and deliberate bunch. I once read and liked that Germans only smile when they mean it. Not like some dumb happy Americans. Even so reading these stories makes me a bit jubilant not to be involved in a marriage or partnership.

These are short stories to be read slowly, savored like a glass of wine. It’s about the pacing. Yasmina Reza–Tony Award-winning playwright for Art and God of Carnage [I really liked the Roman Polanski film Carnage with Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly]—has a knack for brevity and astute, quick, sharp observation. Statements such as: “A man’s a man. There are no married men, no men who are off limits.” And this quip: “To me, ballet shoes are a synonym for boredom and the absence of sex.” Intricate descriptions allow you a glimpse into the lives and thoughts of diverse people. Even for a moment. Secrets, dreams, disappointments. Affairs, heartache, destruction.

In a market, Odile argues with her husband Robert over cheese. Reza writes: “As soon as you run out of arguments, you say I’m out of here, you immediately resort to this grotesque threat.” And “That’s the secret, Ernest said, the child understood it: reduce your requirements for happiness to a minimum.” A few stories later more about the couple’s discord from Odile’s point-of-view: “I wonder if the word tired in Robert’s mouth hasn’t contributed more than anything else to our drifting apart. I refuse to give the word any existential significance. If a literary hero withdraws to the region of shadows, you accept it, but the same doesn’t go for a husband with whom you share a domestic life.”

Paola realizes the end of an affair. Her lover will never leave his wife. Reza writes: “He was so used to coming to my apartment that he couldn’t conceive an alternate idea. Men are totally immobile creatures. We women are the ones who create movement. We wear ourselves out invigorating love.” Magnificent phrasing. Then there’s Philip, a successful doctor who suffered abuse as a child and now seeks random anonymous hook-ups. “. . . the thing I’m really seeking is the smell of sadness. It’s an impalpable thing, deeper than we can gauge, and it has nothing to do with reality. My life is beautiful. I do what I like to do.” In another story a woman runs into a nearly unrecognizable former lover. She admits: “I’m a woman who doesn’t like photographs (I never take any), who doesn’t like any image, whether cheerful or sad, that’s capable of rousing the emotions. Emotions are frightening.” Exactly.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Other Press.

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