Happy are the Happy by Yasmina Reza


Clap Your Hands

It’s odd talking about happiness as if it’s somehow this attainable thing always just beyond our reach when the truth is, as soon as we finally realize that one burning desire that we’ve carried for so long, the moment of actual enjoyment is a fleeting one, and then another goal quickly rises to the surface to take it’s place. We’re forever chasing what we think will make us happy, but when that person, that thing, that job, that object of our endless yearning, finally becomes our ours?  We’re never quite satisfied by it, not completely.

Yet we continue to hope. We continue to struggle, to fight, to dream of being happy ( whatever that’s supposed to mean) because we think it’s what we need in order to feel truly alive. We believe it’s that missing piece in an otherwise perfect existence. We confuse it for love and use the two words as if they are interchangable. As each story in Yasmina Reza’s interlocking collection of slim tales Happy are the Happy reminds us, life can be beautiful at times, but this maddening pursuit of happiness can also make it a frustrating, heart-breaking, maddening, and painful experience.

Reza doesn’t claim to have any answers for us. Instead her power lies in acute observation, in her ability to weave together short, decisive tales that infiltrate our outer defenses to reveal the fragility we keep hidden underneath, safely tucked away, just out of view from those around us. With a keen eye for what makes us tick, she masterfully carves through the extraneous details, and sees past the overwhelming static of everyday life, to arrive solidly at the heart of each matter at hand. Whether she’s tackling the never-ending push and pull of relationships, our fear of death, or our need to simply been seen by others to validate our existence, Reza continually offers us dazzling chunks of truth and clarity at every turn.

I’m not sad. Things are made to disappear. I’ll vanish without a fuss. There will be no coffin and no bones. Everything will go on as it has always done. Everything will float blithely away on the water.

Over the course of Happy are the Happy we’re introduced to the inner lives of 18 characters spread over 21 different chapters. No chapter spans beyond 13 short pages and each person that we’re introduced to is somehow connected to one or more individuals that we meet later down the line. In the hands of a lesser author these short bursts of life could be difficult to digest, but here the results are intoxicating. As we pull back to see the bigger picture, to ponder the interconnectedness of life itself, we realize that there’s something unobtainable, something just beyond our realm of understanding that’s at play here. When we fit the pieces together we realize that life is…unexplainable? Perhaps not life itself, but instead the choices that we each make over the course of our own lives and the things that we endlessly obsess about which ultimately come to define who we are.

Remarkably, translator John Cullen has done a brilliant job with Reza’s original text, delicately transforming it for English speaking readers into a series of tales that are so obviously French in origin, yet so universally relatable in their telling that time and place become of little consequence. Their setting is never in doubt, but neither is the fact that each is a gorgeous little piece of fiction that stands well on it’s own while also strengthening the core of the larger narrative.

Happy are the Happy is a blinding celebration of life in all of its fucked up splendor. Throughout its pages, the characters that inhabit the work do battle with themselves and with one another in a futile pursuit to achieve the unobtainable. They’re forever connected together by ties of family, love, and disappointment, but ultimately, when left to their own devices, they’re each stumbling through life just as confused and afraid as the rest of us.

Happy_Are_The_Happy ★★★★☆
Happy are the Happy
by Yasmina Reza
Translated from the French by John Cullen

Other Press
(2013) 2015
160 Pages
ISBN 9781590516928

About Aaron Westerman

Aaron Westerman is the Manager of Web Architecture for a national human services organization. When he's not busy tearing sites apart and rebuilding them, he spends his ever shrinking free time trying to keep up with his twins, reading works of translated literature, and watching far too many Oscar nominated movies.