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MARRIED LIFE by David Vogel



Pub Date: March 1st, 1988
ISBN: 1592641792
Publisher: Grove

Vogel, a victim of the Holocaust, originally published this long novel in Hebrew in 1929. Set in the Vienna of the 1920's, it's a rich character portrait of a poor Jewish writer neurotically attached to a woman who humiliates him at every turn. Rudolph Gurdweill, his own worst enemy, hastily marries the Baroness Thea (who calls him ""Rabbit"") and quickly becomes enslaved to her, despite her increasing indifference. He gets a job to support her, but she comes and goes at will, lords it over him, and has an operation to reduce the size of her breasts (one of a number of implicitly anti-Semitic actions). As the relationship deteriorates, Vogel conjures up a feverish cafÉ-society Vienna (itself a kind of protagonist) rich in character and incident: Lotte, for instance, loves Gurdweill, but Thea, openly sadistic, tells her she'll torment him to death before letting Lotte get him. Then Gurdweill loses his job, and Thea becomes pregnant, but the premature baby dies after a haunting hallucinatory sequence. Under Thea's sadism and the baby's death, Gurdweill takes sick and Thea kicks him out. Lotte, sick herself, declares herself to Gurdweill, who by now is a half-deranged sleepwalker. He leaves Lotte, and she kills herself. Desolate, Gurdweill returns to Thea, who invites a mutual acquaintance to her bed as Gurdweill sleeps on the couch. Finally, pushed past his limit, moving in and out of derangement, he kills her with a penknife. A gut-wrenching study that combines a Kafkaesque sense of humiliation with precisely rendered realistic detail--and successfully creates an atmosphere of feverish decay that is as much cultural as personal.