cover image The Waiter

The Waiter

Matias Faldbakken, trans. from the Norwegian by Alice Menzies. Scout, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-1-5011-9752-9

Faldbakken’s English-language debut is an ambitious, contained story set entirely in a grand old restaurant in Oslo called The Hills, narrated by a seasoned waiter over the course of a few gorgeous meals. The waiter and others on the staff—the nosy bar manager mixing drinks, the snooty maitre d’ sneaking drinks, the silent chef—find themselves ever more scandalized by the uncharacteristic behavior of their usually impeccably mannered clientele (one even takes out his phone) after a beautiful young woman joins the intimate setting. The waiter becomes so unsettled by the disruption of his establishment’s quotidian rituals that he finds himself in the kitchen smashing all the chef’s cherry tomatoes in the garlic press. He is almost completely undone when another patron asks to leave his daughter at the restaurant while he goes on a day trip, but the waiter musters enormous kindness by entertaining the child with an unusual-looking cauliflower. The story is absurd—when the scents of two diners mix, it is “equivalent to the miracle of mayonnaise... something completely new and special occurs between them”—about nothing, and everything. Faldbakken’s story vandalizes the old world the restaurant represents by revealing its inanities, while at the same time eulogizing it by making it his subject, resulting in a clever, striking novel. (Oct.)