RUNAWAY HORSE by Martin Walser
Kirkus Star


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A social dilemma, gruesome yet common enough: on vacation, you're hailed by, and thereafter saddled with, bores you once knew and thought you'd forever gratefully escaped. Helmut and Sabina Helm have vacationed at Lake Constance for eleven years straight. Helmut, one of life's most perversely indifferent knights (in school he was called ""Kiwi""--always looking at his shoes) likes the vacation apartment they always take (it's got bars on the windows), likes the boredom of the resort, and in general aims ""to transform his own present into a condition resembling as closely as possible the destroyed nature of the past."" Then, out of nowhere, pops Klaus Buch, an old school friend (looking not 46 like Helmut but 26) and his young wife Hella, both of them militantly healthy, hip, liberated, energetic--pains in Helmut's posterior. To counteract the Buchs' diets and mineral waters, Helmut has to drink and smoke more cigars than even he enjoys. His entire state of ""martyred inertia"" is under attack: ""If someone feels friendly, I feel as embarrassed as a meat-eater among vegetarians."" But there is no forestalling the Buchs; they plan foursomes for sailing and hiking--Klaus constantly, nauseatingly life-affirming, Hella always stripping off her blouse in the sun. For Helmut, it is to vomit. Then, during an afternoon sail on the lake, Klaus and Helmut alone (he couldn't get out of it), a sudden storm pitches Klaus overboard. He's presumed drowned, and Hella, drunk as Helmut and Sabina never have seen her, spills all: that Klaus was really a workaholic, neurotic, desperate, more of a Helmut than Helmut. And then there's a knock at the door. . . . Walser, tip-toeing and brilliantly, hilariously sly, is an acupuncturist, his comedy very thin and widely spaced but perfectly pointed. A lovely book (finely rendered by Leila Vennewitz), a mini-Oblomov.

Pub Date: April 24th, 1980
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston