Couplings

Peter Schneider, Author, Philip Boehm, Translator
Peter Schneider, Author, Philip Boehm, Translator Farrar Straus Giroux $24 (0p) ISBN 978-0-374-13053-4
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
Paperback - 298 pages - 978-0-226-73939-7
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When three pre-reunification Berliner friends make a bet to stay in their respective pairs for at least a year, the odds are equally against them all in this wry, worldly first novel by Schneider, whose The German Comedy (1991) chronicled life in Berlin after the Wall came down. The characters and fates of Schneider's protagonists reflect the different regions of the brain, much as they are divided up among the districts of the city. Eduard, a strictly left-lobe microbiologist from West Berlin, has been living with Klara in a four-year ""undeclared marriage"" until the news of his statistically deficient sperm count threatens to undermine their relationship. Theo, a romantic anarchist poet from the other side of the Wall, finds his ""strict spiritual loyalty"" to Pauline, the wife with whom he shares a wide-open marriage, jeopardized by a honeytrap from the Stasi. Andre, a cosmopolitan composer collaborating with Theo on an updated Don Giovanni, confronts the cultural prejudices of his bride's Russian in-laws. By year's end, Schneider has reversed all their fortunes and given them what seem like just deserts. The monogamous, rational Eduard, for instance, is entangled in two passionate affairs, both of which result in pregnancy. Along the way, Schneider pads his narrative with a few extra subplots such as Eduard's ongoing argument with his sociologist twin brother about whether behavior is determined by nature or nurture; their separate inquiries into their parent's past; and plenty of cafe chatter on the questions of love and human nature. Schneider's principals, overshadowed by big ideas and historical penumbras, are never especially likable. But it's a stylish first effort, providing a cynically funny look at the flux and fragility of urban romantic attachments. (Sept.)
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