A traffic jam prompts a stirring meditation on family, faith and intellect.
Dour Viennese furrier Gustav is en route by car to his house outside New York, where his wife and children are waiting for him. The pressure’s on to arrive before sunset; he’s recently converted to Orthodox Judaism, much to the frustration of his mother Rosa. Much to Gustav’s frustration, Rosa is with him as he drives, lecturing him about everything from his choice of wife to his choice of rental car. Worse, they’ll be stuck together for a while, as a chemical spill on the Tappan Zee Bridge brings traffic to a halt. Jungk (Tigor, 2004, etc.) slows down the narrative at that moment, suggesting a Nicholson Baker-esque study of the minutiae of living with gridlock. But when Gustav steps out of the car to look at the Hudson River, an unusual thing happens: He sees the enormous naked body of his late father, Ludwig, lying across the river’s banks. It’s patently absurd, but Jungk masterfully captures the confusion the image creates in Gustav’s and Rosa’s minds, as well as the vaguely unsettled feeling it arouses in others on the bridge. (They don’t see the “fatherbody” but sense something odd about the river.) Ludwig was a famous scientist—importantly, his major text was titled Fusion—and as Gustav walks across the bridge he ponders the connection between his father’s body and his life. The sight of Ludwig’s penis recalls memories of his infidelities; his stomach evokes his intestinal illnesses; and, finally, his mind evokes his intellectual force. Jungk shows just how tightly knit the relationship was and is between Gustav and his parents, and though the tone is muted throughout, the overall feeling is one of uplift, affirmation of the deep bonds that connect the family. The presence of his father’s body on the river, however strange, doesn’t confuse and complicate Gustav’s life—it clarifies it.
Jungk’s beautiful, uncanny work breaks new ground in stories about fathers and sons.