The Weight of Things

Marianne Fritz, trans. from the German by Adrian Nathan West. Dorothy, a Publishing Project (SPD, dist.), $16 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-0-9897607-7-5
Fritz’s slim first novel takes place in Germany, loosely from 1943 to 1963. The narrative follows the story of Bertha, a young woman who gets pregnant by a German music teacher named Rudolph, who quickly dies in the Second World War, leaving Wilhelm, his best friend, to marry Berta. Berta’s unhappiness grows as she gives birth to a baby named Rudolph and later, another named Bertha; neither child bears much wit or will to survive. The narrative is slippery, never reliable or predictable, lyrical in one moment and transforming into dry domestic satire in the next. Time shifts frequently as well, and though the novel begins after Berta has acted drastically and Wilhelm is preparing to marry her best friend, it lopes back and forth in time at a dizzying pace, mirroring Berta’s own feverish mind. This makes for a difficult (though innovative) reading experience—there is little to anchor the reader in what descends into a spooling riff on despair, making the story more puzzle than legible timeline, and requiring patience. Still, the prose is rewarding when it occasionally slips temporarily out of Fritz’s stark lack of sentiment and into quiet meditations on the self, as when Fritz writes of Berta that “the inwardness she had struggled for, tirelessly and to no purpose, now suffused her face, and it would never leave her thereafter.” That inwardness of the mind shifts cleverly in a way that makes it not an easy read, but surely an important one. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/31/2015
Release date: 10/01/2015
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