Am I a Redundant Human Being?

Mela Hartwig, trans. from the German by Kerri A. Pierce, Dalkey Archive, $13.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 9781564785817
Written in the 1930s by Austrian author Hartwig, this remarkable and remarkably bare tale feels as edgily modern as it must have when it was first written. Luise Schmidt, a nondescript secretary, uses her invisibility to erotic effect. Forced to by her father (and unpromising grades) to attend trade school, Luise learns to be a secretary. However, she is frequently fired for incompetence, learning in her successive employment to ingratiate herself slavishly to the will of more powerful tormentors. She loses her one true admirer, the medical student and socialist Emil K., because of anxious, incessant self-belittlement, and rids herself of an older, repugnant fiancé by submitting to a handsome con artist for a single night. Finally, she meets Elizabeth, a volatile young acting student with an endlessly entertaining personality. Through her, Luisa experiences something like adventure, even in the fantasy of appropriating Elizabeth's boyfriend, the forbidding civil engineer Egon Z. Is it fault or fate that Luise spends her life stumbling around "with feelings that were too big for [her]"? Hartwig (1893-1967) delineates her narrator's masochism with a devastatingly understated finesse, proving herself an accomplished novelist. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 10/11/2010
Release date: 08/01/2010
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