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AGNES by Peter Stamm


by Peter Stamm translated by Michael Hofmann

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 2016
ISBN: 9781590518113
Publisher: Other Press

A writer suspects the story he's writing can alter the story of his life.

Since the 1998 publication of this debut novel, now receiving its first American publication, Swiss author Stamm (All Days Are Night, 2014, etc.) has received international acclaim for his parables and metafictional narratives. This short novel should appeal to readers enchanted by his elliptical style, but it also reads like very early work. A Swiss writer of nonfiction meets a much younger graduate student in the Chicago public library. Even before exchanging names, they sense an intuitive connection, an intimacy of strangers. Her name provides the book’s title, and her obsessions—with death, with having a story written about her—provide its plot. He had earlier dabbled in fiction, even made it 50 pages into a novel, but abandoned it, he tells her, because “I was never in control of my material. It was always artificial. I got so drunk on the sound of my own words.” Quickly and inevitably they become lovers, he more concerned with the age difference than she apparently is, and she keeps pressing him on the matter of fiction: " 'Write a story about me,' she said, 'so I know what you think of me.' " Though the novel is narrated in the first person by the writer, the reader isn’t quite sure what he thinks of Agnes, and neither is he. The results may well surprise all, particularly as he moves from writing what has happened between the two of them—and discovering that their impressions and recent memories differ significantly—and lets the story proceed “into the future. Now Agnes was my creation. I felt the new freedom lend wings to my imagination. I planned her future for her.” Will those plans for the future become reality? Will they include him? Can he edit fate? And what’s with all these forests where people venture and lose themselves, never to return?

Less a fully fleshed novel than an extended meditation on the interrelationship between life and fiction.