Critics called Yasmina Reza’s Happy are the Happy (translated by John Cullen) a smart human comedy. I’m a human partial to books that bring the funny, so I thought I’d like this one. Haha. I did love the doodled cover and the way it felt in my hand. After a few pages I began wondering what I was missing.
First, harrrrrrrrrgh. My vision is fine, but these pages hurt to look at. There are no paragraph breaks or quotes around dialogue? It all runs on, distracting attention from the dreary stories to the pretentious lack of formatting. Why? Why make the visual layout of the text so hard on the eyes? Especially when my eyes are already rolling from passages like this:
When you meet someone, you’re not interested in his martial status. Or his sentimental condition. Sentiments are mutable and mortal. Like every earthly thing. Animals die. So do plants. Watercourses aren’t the same from one year to the next. Nothing lasts. People want to believe the opposite. They spend their lives gluing pieces back together, and they call that marriage or fidelity or whatever. As for me, I don’t burden myself with such idiocy anymore. I try my luck with whomever I like. I’m not afraid of coming up short.
Soon after beginning the twenty chapters/stories I immediately flipped to the end to see how longer. This was my cue to put the book down, but I didn’t. WHY? Prepare to be moved. Because it was thin. I want to like short books because they fit in my bag.
Somehow this 145-pager manages to squeeze in one long-winded passage after another. Oh, I know how – no formatting. Just shrink the font, throw out pesky paragraph breaks and fill the pages with banal dialogue nevermind if the reader has no idea who’s saying what. I probably wasn’t in the right mindset to potentially appreciate this book. My bad.
About halfway through, the melancholy restlessness started to grow on me. Maybe because I was on the subway and understood. Am I liking this? Does this kid who just nearly kicked my head doing a flip think I’m going to give him money? Is that man eating fish soup on the train? Oh, he is. My boyfriend loves riding the subway because he says it’s like being in someone else’s living room/car/kitchen. That’s exactly what it’s like.
Every story switches characters and POVs with some overlap. The narrators are the stars of their own little worlds. A married couple drifting apart closes the gap for one night. A woman sleeping with a married man. A man pondering what to do with his ashes. Parents worried about a son so obsessed with Celine Dion he becomes her. Mostly jaded, retiring people being horrible to each other.
What I appreciated were the rare gems of mundane observations, like how much kinder we can be with people who bring it out in us. A number of American MFA authors produce similar work aiming at the profound via navel gazing. Happy are the Happy is more substantial and by the end I could see why people like it.
It’s a book to love or hate. Readers that like Junot Diaz would probably like this. Me, I should’ve passed. And I need a bigger bag. Stranger in a Strange Land is 500+ pages.