Sulzer, Alain Claude. “A Perfect Waiter”, Bloomsbury, 2008.
“A Perfect Waiter” begins on September 15, 1996. Erneste is an ordinary man who receives a letter from someone that he has not seen in 30 years. This is beautifully and disquietly narrated by author Alain Claude Sulzer. We learn that Erneste is a waiter but we really want to know what is in the letter he received. We are aware that Erneste recognizes the handwriting on the envelope and it bothers him. It takes him quite a while to open the letter.
Erneste is considered to be the perfect waiter at the hotel where he works, the Grand Hotel which sits above the shores of a lake in Switzerland. Erneste has worked there for many years and he remembers what it was like before the Holocaust. He was much younger then. His customers were refugees feeling the rise of the Third Reich. He and his guests were waiting for something to happen. When the disaster came it was very personal for Erneste. He was sent to the hotel pier to meet a new staff member—a man by the name of Jakob Meier. Jakob was 19 years old, a German who is tall and good-looking. Erneste, being the senior staff member, is to mentor Jakob. Erneste is immediately smitten by Jakob but does nothing about it. Two months after having been at the Grand, Jakob makes a pass Ernest and the two men enter into a sexual relationship and they are both blissfully happy,
We can tell that the affair will not end on a happy note. With the Second World War looming, it is likely to suspect that disaster is on its way. Jakob becomes a villain and he seems to be calculating and animal at the same time. Erneste acquiesces in the affair and because he is the perfect waiter, he never breaks. The novel happens in different rooms of the hotel—in the staff quarters, in a villa by the lake and all the locations are impersonal.
Sulzer writes beautifully but with austerity. He convinces the reader of the story he tells. His writing is sexually suggestive at times and when he describes the gay scene in Switzerland, he is nasty.
There is a great deal of “remembrance of times past” and as Erneste remembers the façade of the perfect waiter is eroded. He is ultimately reduced to agony but that is not the thought that remains when we close the covers of “The Perfect Waiter”. It is the heart that is in this book and we see it through beautiful prose and great polish and style.