This delightful novel, the first by the prolific Austrian to appear in English, makes a welcome addition to the postmodernist canon. An ersatz guidebook to a small town? A treatise on village rules and regulations? Medieval or futuristic? Working with the simplest yet most universal of geometric structures—the town square with streets and buildings branching out around it—Jonke gives his small conceptual novel vast overlays. Aided by crudely drawn blueprints and diagrams, he takes readers back to basics, beginning each chapter with comments that might be found in a child's primer. ``The village square is empty'' opens several of the ``Village Square'' chapters, which alternate with sections about the blacksmith, the mayor, and the various architectural structures. Jonke makes excellent use of repetition, building up momentum with short paragraphs, slowly enlarging them, then moving forward without redundancies. He does a nice job of chorusing the townsfolk's reaction to such municipal ``events'' as noisy children or the removal of tree stumps on which people often sat. Within the mathematically correct setting of the town square, everything else takes on precise dimensions: The spanking of a child is measured in meters; a schoolteacher explains church carvings as various geometric forms. Gradually, almost invisibly, the plot thickens in what seemed a plotless novel. The town government takes the ecologically disastrous measure of cutting down forests because of the shadows or ``black men'' who might be hiding there. We learn that the nameless couple debating whether or not to walk across the village square in every other chapter is actually in hiding. An element of racial tension added near the end causes readers to go back and rethink earlier passages. Jonke has achieved what his American counterparts merely dream of: highly experimental fiction that is both entertaining and accessible.
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