A man abandons his family for no discernible reason.
In the latest from Swiss novelist Stamm (Agnes, 2016), Thomas and Astrid are relaxing outside their house shortly after returning from vacation. One of their two children cries out, and one of them must go see what’s the matter. She goes and stays inside. Without premeditation, he waits and then starts walking. And keeps walking. With no chapter divisions, the narrative alternates between the two of them after he leaves, generally around four pages for each, describing what he does and how she feels. It is plain that both of them had been operating on autopilot, doing and saying the same things day after day for years on end. Maybe this was the problem. Maybe this is the human condition. In a rare moment of reflection, Thomas ponders the routine that had been his life, “the faith, the conviction that it was the right thing to do. He too had once formed part of this quiet consensus, he had functioned in the way that was expected of him, without it ever having been discussed.” Now, on impulse, he has freed himself from that consensus in order to walk wherever for however long. Astrid also feels some freedom, along with various other emotions associated with stages of denial and acceptance. She doesn’t quite feel that he is gone, because so much of her own routine remains unchanged. In fact, she felt like she “was making herself Thomas’s accomplice...as though she was joined with him in some secret conspiracy.” She covers for him with the kids and at his work, waiting for him to return, wondering if he will, wondering why he left. They had never argued. Maybe that was the problem. It would seem that there are only two ways that the novel can resolve itself, that either Thomas will return or he won’t, but a Stamm parable is never so cut and dried. Toward the end, “the years had no particular chronology, the journeys no direction, the places stood in no discernible relation to one another.”
In this densely detailed, largely opaque book, the novelist leaves his readers as unmoored as his characters.