A Leipzig barrister recalls his painful relationship with a girlfriend who led him to drug-smuggling, international terrorism, and a fevered inability to live in the world she left behind.
You think you’re disillusioned? Listen to Max Cooper tell the sad tale of his old school friend Jessie’s suicide. Years ago she introduced Max and his Dusklands roommate Shershah, the estranged son of an Iranian diplomat, to her own father and brother, leading figures in a major drug-smuggling ring who in turn introduced them to cocaine. Then, just a year ago, she was back in Max’s life offering the fair-haired boy of an international legal firm in Vienna an even more potent drug: her own burning need for his life-giving support. There followed some marathon coke binges, countless rounds of exhausted recriminations, but precious few embraces, since Jessie really didn’t like Max touching her. Now that she’s shot herself in the middle of their last phone call, Max, in a frenzy of loneliness, spills the story obsessively to Clara, a phone-in radio show host who wants to mine his confessions for her university thesis in psychology. She’s got her work cut out for her, since Max’s memories come tumbling out in anything but narrative form. Flashbacks to his school days, which mingled Shershah’s idealistic promise and Jessie’s high spirits with her relatives’ menace, are tangled with horrific anecdotes of the Bosnian civil war and deepening revelations of just how much Max’s cocaine habit cost him and Jessie and a good many others. In the meantime, Max’s bargain with Clara—“my story for her entire person”—traps him between two impossible objects of desire, one of them untouchable, the other someone he wants to wash his hands after touching.
In forgoing the conventional pleasures of rationality and romance, Zeh’s bleak debut only greases the skids of its hero’s memorable descent into hell.