Debut collection from an award-winning Austrian author, a fresh new voice in innovative fiction.
The themes explored in these very short stories are both timeless and quotidian: life and death, love and sex, family and friends. Narrators negotiate family and relationships and the uncertainties of young adulthood. What distinguishes Spiegel is her willingness to experiment with form and language. Her strengths as a stylist are what make her debut shine, and those strengths are all on display in “How It Is,” one of the most successful stories in this collection. Written in short bursts of memory and suppressed emotion, doubling back on itself to express feelings that are complex and inescapable, this story has an exquisite shape. The narrator is a young woman describing her sister. It’s not until the second page that the narrator states one of the fundamental facts of this narrative: “My sister is an actor.” The reader already knows this, but it’s clear that the narrator needs to say this—finally—even though she’s no more enthusiastic about her sister’s vocation than their bitter, willfully unhappy mother is. Like much experimental fiction, this story is short on action and devoid of plot, but it’s rich with the razor-sharp language of someone who would rather observe and record than talk: “What’s up? My voice sounds like birch bark, rough. If I peel it, it would sound like: Go away.” The reader doesn’t have to take “How It Is” as autobiography to believe that this protagonist who doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up might turn out to be a writer.
This collection is unlikely to bring new readers to experimental fiction, but fans of authors like Lydia Davis, Ben Marcus, and Jenny Offill will want to check it out.