The Trouble with Happiness

Tove Ditlevsen, trans. from the Danish by Michael Favala Goldman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-60560-5

This quiet and devastating collection of vignettes from Ditlevsen (1917–1976) follows Goldman’s recent translation of the last entry in Ditlevsen’s memoir cycle The Copenhagen Trilogy. The stories mainly turn on domestic dramas, revealing all the simmering, explosive tensions found in marriage, family, and parenthood. In “The Little Shoes,” a middle-aged mother is consumed by envy for her housekeeper’s youth. In “A Fine Business,” a woman is pained with sympathy for a single mother who, desperate for cash, accepts a cruelly low offer on her house. Often, characters imbue mundane, household objects with intense psychological meaning, as in “The Umbrella,” as a husband expresses his unreasonable contempt for his wife by breaking her umbrella. The stories are simple; the characters ordinary and immensely human. Their motivations are mysterious and subtle, and Ditlevsen is acutely sensitive to the way normal life can wear at their hearts. Readers will recognize the themes of anger, disappointment, and frustration that recur within the author’s universe. Alongside this discomfort, though, is the opportunity for deep transformation. Already renowned for her memoirs, Ditlevsen is now poised to win acclaim as a master of short fiction. (Apr.)
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