A Stockholm video store clerk receives a mysterious bill for 5,700,000 kronor in a charming story that explores the relationship between money and happiness.
The nameless hero of Swedish actor Karlsson’s (The Room, 2015) short novel is the ultimate lovable nebbish. His simple life consists of going to work, eating takeout pizza, and looking out the window. His pleasures include old movies, ice cream, spending time with a cheapskate buddy, and revisiting treasured memories of his one great love. He is a connoisseur of even smaller diversions: “Then I came up with a new way of puffing out my cheeks and amused myself with that for a while. After that I found the remains of an old sticker that someone had stuck to the side of the counter, now just fragments that it was quite fun to pick off with my thumb and forefinger. Twenty minutes or so later, I’d almost managed to get rid of it all.” When he investigates the massive invoice, he learns that a mysterious authority called W.R.D. has been empowered to levy fees against all citizens for the amount of happiness they have experienced in their lives. But how can a person who owns almost nothing, has no social life to speak of, and has passed up every opportunity for advancement owe so much, he wonders—more than anyone else! Several times more than millionaires and people “whose lives are a never-ending party.” His attempt to understand the bill leads him into an extended phone relationship with one of W.R.D.’s customer support consultants and into a deeper examination of what has caused his “Experienced Happiness” quotient to achieve such heights.
A fable for the ages. Should be read alongside The Trial and Nineteen Eighty-Four as an antidote.