THE BLUE MAN And Other Stories by Adolf Muschg

THE BLUE MAN And Other Stories

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KIRKUS REVIEW

From a leading Swiss writer, previously unpublished here: seven studies in psychological disturbance and existential discomfort--with more immediacy (edgy details, humor, distinct narrator voices) than is often found in the fiction-of-alienation by German-language writers. (See, for example, Peter Handke, above.) The three most striking pieces center on unnatural, socially unacceptable acts--but in each case Muschg goes beyond clinical curiosity, using one man's extreme behavior to touch more universal feelings of uneasiness. In ""The Scythe Hand or The Homestead,"" the narrator is an old farmer before the High Court of Justice, explaining how he came to commit incest with his two grown daughters: it's a rough yet oddly stately tale of isolation, deprivation, and fearful huddling--""not because of the flesh, but because the flesh is tormented by a soul and has nothing left to hope for if it finds no warmth, something I could not bear to watch any longer."" In ""Reparations or Making Good,"" 52-year-old Armin Bleuler--overseer at a local crematorium--is put on trial for removing the wedding rings from 17 corpses, then passing them on to his unloving wife for resale: here the narration is droll, ironic--making a resonant, chilly little fugue out of the overlapping themes (materialism, bureaucracy, sterile wedlock). And, in the more ambitious ""Brami's View,"" a ruminative narrator reconstructs the bygone suicide of his great-uncle--a farmer confronted with epic loss (embodied in the haunting image of his wife and daughter walking away from the farmhouse), a man who chose to go out with a strangely uplifting ""tremendous bang."" The other pieces here are less original, less fully realized: the title story is a prototypical exercise in mid-life, middle-class angst, with the ""blue man"" as an hallucinatory symbol of the narrator's doom, his empty embrace of bourgeois values; ""Dinnertime"" is a conventional, modestly affecting sketch of a youngish man's visit with his senile, half-shrewd uncle (institutionalized in America); ""Grandfather's Little Pleasure""--grandpa's tale of a brothel-visit, with sharp side-comments from his listening grandchildren--is a slightly absurdist, fairly amusing study in sexual hypocrisy, the coverups and delusions of memory. Still, even if only sporadically compelling: welcome work from abroad--reminiscent, at its best, of fiction by Max Frisch and Martin Walser.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1985
Publisher: Braziller