Painful choices confront Schlink’s characters in the second story collection from the German author (The Weekend, 2010, etc.).
They meet on vacation on Cape Cod. In "After the Season," the first of seven stories, Richard is a German immigrant, a flautist; Susan works for a foundation. He’s shocked to discover she’s filthy rich; Richard doesn’t like rich folks, but head-over-heels love sweeps him into a commitment to move in with her, though he’s loath to leave his gritty Manhattan neighborhood; these are his people. Richard is a plausible but not fully autonomous character in a very well-crafted story. Not quite so plausible is the protagonist of "The House in the Forest"; he too is a German immigrant, a novelist like his American wife. She’s successful, he’s not. They find an idyllic country hideaway in which to raise their little girl, away from the distractions of Manhattan; but how can the husband make their seclusion total? Credibility dissolves as his first act of vandalism propels him into madness. The most painful choice is faced by Thomas in "The Last Summer." The retired philosopher has inoperable bone cancer. Thomas will treat himself to a last summer with his family; when the pain becomes unbearable, he will take a lethal cocktail. His plan goes awry when his wife finds the bottle. Again, credibility suffers when she goes ballistic at a family gathering. Nina’s painful choice came during her youth ("The Journey to the South"). Should she leave her bourgeois family and prospective husband for the happy-go-lucky student she’s fallen for? She chose wrongly and now, a cranky old woman, is eaten up by regret. The fun story is "Stranger in the Night." The very proper Jakob is transfixed by the wild odyssey of his seatmate on a trans-Atlantic flight. Who could resist the story of a beautiful girlfriend, a swaggering sheikh, a suspicious death and five million euros? And now the stranger wants to borrow Jakob’s passport!
A thoughtful, stimulating collection.