"COUPLES, PASSERSBY" by Botho Strauss


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Another gathering of elliptical vignettes and ponderous philosophizing from the ostensibly controversial German author (Devotion, 1979; The Young Man, not reviewed). In truth, the only controversy engendered by Strauss's bewildering concoctions is whether they might have any meaning for sensibilities other than the one that assembled them. Here, we're treated to six interchangeable patchwork stories, each a seemingly arbitrary collection of discrete scenes and statements meant to express our common solipsism and essential selfishness. Thus, in ""traffic flow,"" a man watches as his girlfriend is hit by a car, then realizes his feelings for her have been altered by the event, triggering a sequence of otherwise unrelated minutiae that variously demonstrate lovers' (and others') lack of constancy; ""by ourselves"" dramatizes (sort of) ""the profound indifference people have for one another,"" and ""idiots of the immediate"" seems concerned with the different forms anxiety takes in human relationships. Only in ""couples,"" the longest story, is there a consistent, if discursive, focus on various manifestations of ""the two-person unit in which we isolate ourselves with that one other person: mother, father, lover, child."" And only in ""dimmer"" is there an engagingly specific fictional invention: a revisionist creation myth according to which men and women originally did not cohabit but instead gave birth separately, to his or her replacement, as it were, at the moment of death. One wants more such invention and less of what Strauss, in a passing theoretical fit, defines as ""an art which denies itself the delights of perfect normality, and. . . turns to the intricate demands of the symbolic. . . running the danger that what is created might only celebrate the idea."" Well, he should know. To paraphrase Dorothy Parker: I'd sooner clean and paint the house Than read a book by Botho Strauss.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1996
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Northwestern Univ.