In prizewinning Swiss writer Schwitter's (Goldfish Memory, 2015, etc.) new novel, a novelist is writing a book about her past loves.
Fueled by nostalgia and intimations of mortality, a married writer with two young children googles her first love and discovers that he committed suicide. So begins a discursive "chronology of men." "How many loves does anyone have?" she muses. "The way I count depends on what I tell." Though chiefly romantic, the 12-man lineup that follows also includes loves platonic, familial, and imaginary. There is a 12-year relationship with a handsome actor, sex with a stranger in a public urinal in Berlin, an affair with a lecherous mentor, a flirtation with a writing student. Although the book is structured around the men in her life, the narrator's most vivid connections seem to be the ones with her dog and her deceased grandmother, who used to tell her, among other things, "Love is not something you choose, dear heart." The present intrudes into the narrative in the form of an unexpected calamity brought about by her husband. "It's your own fault if you think you can tame, order, channel life by writing," the narrator chides herself. On impulse, she leaves children and husband and takes the dog to Zurich, where she grew up, by train. "I'd like to have my own apartment," she thinks. "My own mailbox. No one else's mail, no one else's problems." In a surprise twist, the final chapter introduces a character who predates the others. "I tried to tell the story without you but it won't work." Although he casts a long shadow for her, the lateness of his entrance mutes a loss that would otherwise register more deeply.
A romantic bildungsroman, uneven in places but refreshingly unsentimental, narrated by a woman in the middle of a marital crisis.