Jagged, lyrical, this gem from a 23-year-old wunderkind of German fiction (Crazy, 2000) shines darkly.
Two strangers on a train bound for Berlin fall to talking. Ethnology student Paul, spirit broken, mainly listens as Henry gushes words. His is a tale of devastated friendship, a bond comprised of pathology and fantasy. Enraptured by anorexic Christine, blonde, black-clad and mysterious or vacant, Henry is crowded by obese Jens, a patient at Christine’s eating-disorders clinic, a mournful puppyish type who clings to the blonde even while insisting that Big Macs beat sex. The three fuse, grooving to Steve Miller’s “The Joker,” meditating on MTV and inhaling codependency. Henry—mad about girls or maybe just plain mad—spouts a speed-freak version of the high romanticism of Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. Social pariah Jens dreams that he’s “actually a powerful and beautiful creature of light,” and Christine provides the moth a flame. When Henry finally makes his move on her, Jens, feeling betrayed, threatens suicide. As Henry recalls the story, Paul nods and mutters, his mind seized by his own dark imaginings—of gluing himself, heart and soul, to Mandy, a prostitute at one of the capital’s pricier bordellos. Plainly, his fantasy-life is twisted yet more tightly than even his fellow passenger’s, and at the end of the novella, when he uncoils, it’s into a psychic cesspool, a place violent and strange.
Mirroring the early, bitter work of Brett Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney, this is tough, twilit fare: youth as madhouse.