The International Writers Magazine: A Charleie Dickinson Review
DAYS by Laurent Graff
English translation from the French by Linda Coverdale
Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2004, 101 pp.
HAPPY DAYS by Laurent Graff is a wisp of a novel at 99 pages of
story, but be warned, this is one big-hearted book. As we say in
the library reader advisory biz, if you liked cult classic film
HAROLD AND MAUDE by the late Colin Higgins (screenwriter and director),
you'll love HAPPY DAYS.
Set in contemporary
France, we meet protagonist Antoine, who, with the resolve of an unshakable
fatalist, decides at age eighteen to splurge the life savings his parents
built up during his childhood. He buys outright his tombstone and a
burial plot on which to have it set. Date of death, for inscription
purposes, to follow. You might say Antoine is deadly serious about what
life will finally bring his way.
Between visits to his future grave, Antoine does manage to marry and
have children. At age thirty-five, however, a long-forgotten godfather
bestows a large inheritance on our fatalistic hero. Antoine decides
go live in a retirement home among geriatics. Soon, he's also soon
A crazy, lovable premise with obvious similarities to Colin Higgins'
"what-iffing" about young, wealthy Harold falling in love
with much, much older Maude. To be fair, Mr. Graff may or may not be
aware of HAROLD AND MAUDE. What is true, according to the book's flap
copy, Mr. Graff is only thirty-five, father of two children, and a widower.
One is tempted to indulge in a bit of an existentialist critique (which
is to say, facts of a writer's life are not irrelevant to an understanding
of a writer's art). Such a personal tragedy, no doubt, gave Mr. Graff
a keen sense of Antoine's initial stance about life: What else does
life offer? And yet, the joy of HAPPY DAYS is that Mr. Graff remakes
Antoine's passive endurance with something that could be taken for--Is
it?--zest. HAPPY DAYS is obviously about meeting the Grim Reaper. In
this, his first novel to be published in English, Graff has managed
to bring a light touch, without being superficial or insensitive, to
a subject fascinating writers for ages. His goofy premise--young man
beelines to the old folks home--when told in understated, clear-eyed
prose, summons poignancy, without yielding to the tempting, easy laugh.
Graff brings exceptional control to his theme and some of the last scenes
in the novel, where Death stops by, are well played out against the
western sky of an Atlantic Ocean seascape, in the dark of night, with
the wintry cold bringing down snowflakes looking "for a place to
land." All unambiguous symbolism, yet at story's end, still powerful
A tale with real heft, presented in a small package. Set aside an evening
to savor HAPPY DAYS in one sitting.
© Charlie Dickinson Feb 2004
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