The Waitress Was New is narrated by Pierre, a fifty-six-year old barman at a French café, Le Cercle. He has his role and his routine, but over the course of this short novella he keeps getting pushed out of these. It begins with the new waitress, standing in for the regular waitress, Sabrina, who is out sick. That only makes for a slight adjustment, but there’s more to come.
The café is run by a younger married couple, but Henri, the boss, is getting restless again, and he disappears when he should be taking care of business. His wife is all in a tizzy when she’s not sure what he’s up to, and Pierre tries his best to keep things running more or less smoothly.
Pierre is past his mid-life crisis — which hit him hard when he turned fifty-four (that “almost threw me into the Seine, if you’ll pardon the expression”) — and he seems more resigned-philosophical, admitting some regrets (especially about not really settling down) and wondering how his life has come to this. He’s not completely resigned: there’s a customer who always has his head stuck in a book, and though Pierre is no great reader he sometimes goes out and buys whatever he sees the fellow is reading, a volume of Queneau, a Primo Levi, for example. And he takes some pride in his role at the café, which seems to suit him. Events, however, force him to take more things than he’s used to into his hands, life-changing turmoil that he’s not sure he’s up to any more at this stage in his life.
The Waitress Was New is a fairly simple story — little more than a character-study. But Pierre is a sympathetic character, slowly revealed by Fabre (and the circumstances), and it makes for an appealing little novella.