New Fiction Friday: The Invoice

51osjhvtavl-_sx336_bo1204203200_If you’ve ever felt unlucky, or really lucky in life, you’re not alone.  I’ve always felt unlucky – and whether it’s true or not, it probably all depends on perspective. That’s exactly what Jonas Karlsson tackles in The Invoice. It’s not at all philosophical, it’s a story that lightly tackles one of life’s biggest questions; but the underlying idea is that there a price to pay for happiness. In this case, it comes in the form of a bill sent out by the government. In the beginning of the story, the main character (who remains nameless) gets an invoice for $5,700,000 kronor and has no idea why.

At first he just throws it away, thinking that it has obviously been sent to him by mistake. A few weeks later, he gets another invoice. Same amount, yet this time he actually looks a little closer and decides to call the number that is listed on the bill. It turns out that the invoice was not sent to him by mistake. What could the bill possibly be for? He really doesn’t understand, though it seems as if there has been a huge campaign by the government (that he has been unaware of) that everyone would be receiving a similar invoice – though not necessarily for the same amount.

When he finally reaches someone at the number listed on the invoice he has waited for hours on hold – literally overnight. What he finds out is completely shocking. He’s actually being charged for happiness, or what the government seems to be calling “experienced happiness”.  And she goes on to explain how the amount is calculated:

“It’s calculated according to a formula that takes account of age, place of residence, particular experiences, success, proximity to the sea. That sort of thing. Quality of home and relationships, et cetera. Taken as a whole, that constitutes your personal quantity of Experienced Happiness. Your levels will be constantly updated, provided that all information can be verified. It’s all officially administered, of course, but I’m afraid I can’t make an estimate as things stand … Have you had any notable setbacks?”

The formula is interesting, making me wonder how much my bill would be. He is quite surprised that his bill is so large, after numerous calls to Maud, he realizes that his is actually the largest of all of the invoices. Which is crazy, because he’s just an unmarried video store clerk, not a millionaire. After his phone calls, I really felt for him. What the money was actually meant for was sort of a redistrubition – in which those with the lowest ammounts charged (meaning the unhappiest lives) would get the money.

I don’t think money buys happiness but this compensation plan seems to suggest that it might.  That’s not Karlsson’s idea – but it is the idea behind the government’s plan.  I was so surprised by this story, and though there’s no real conclusion at the end, I really loved reading it.  I didn’t need closure, but I think he did.  The story is somewhat futuristic, and like other futuristic/post-apocalyptic stories, it’s something impossible to imagine.


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