This quirky novella asks a simple question: Is it possible to write compellingly about a happy person? In the hands of celebrated (but never before translated into English) Swiss author Hansjörg Schertenleib, the answer is yes.
This Studer is the titular happy man. But he’s not one of those people who shove their good cheer into your face, making you suspect if they are just trying to cover up a sadness lurking under the surface.No, This seems just plain happy. He has become more accepting and understanding of people as he’s gotten older, and he just can’t be angry or mad at them when they act badly. He has a teenaged daughter whose favorite activity, besides hanging out with her boyfriend, is trying the patience of her parents. While Daniela, This’s wife, is often exasperated by her, This takes it all in stride. He remembers back to his time as a teen, and is certain that this too shall pass.
I can see how if you were a person in This’s life, this could be frustrating, but as a reader, I’m just a simple observer. Instead of placing myself in the shoes of his wife or daughter, I can try to get to know This, and learn a thing or two about appreciating the beauty in the everyday. In a way, it reminded me of some of my favorite parts of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, when Francie and her brother are entertained by the simplest pleasures in their otherwise squalid surroundings.
If this was in fact a writerly experiment, it was a resounding success.
As a little treat, here’s Ben Webster playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the tenor sax, since This is a ballad fan.