How can the mayor of Amsterdam possibly think of running a city when his wife may be cheating on him and his parents are planning to kill themselves?
Robert, the narrator of Koch’s fourth novel translated into English (Dear Mr. M, 2016, etc.), is a little obsessed and on edge. A New Year’s party brings official chatter about managing soccer fans and the impact of a visit by President Barack Obama, but Robert has his eyes trained on his wife, Sylvia, who he suspects is having an affair with an alderman. On what evidence? Nothing but her laughing as the alderman “had his hand on her elbow and was whispering something in her ear.” But paranoia has an easy grip on Robert's dark temperament, as it often does in Koch’s fiction; much of the novel turns on Robert's searching his memory for proof of Sylvia's disaffection. And the bleakness metastasizes: Did he hasten the suicide of a staffer caught embezzling? Should he intervene on his parents’ plans to soberly kill themselves? (“Not right away,” his nonagenarian father tells him. “In September or October. Autumn, a nice time of year for a double funeral.”) A Paris trip with Sylvia does nothing to alleviate his anxiety, and he grows determined to “be the mole in my own life”; as the story presses on, threads about mortality, murder, and Robert’s past history of alleged violence begin to connect. The connection is an awkward one, though. Koch has crafted a pitch-perfect tone for a man consumed by jealousy, which in part demands some digression and ranting. But longueurs about trash-pickup policies and wind power are distracting, even as they intend to reveal Robert’s distractedness, and dampen the impact of the (somewhat) revealing final chapters.
A shadowy tale of the power of projection that’s swamped by the narrator's rambling nature.