The Tidings of the Trees

Wolfgang Hilbig, trans. from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole. Two Lines (PGW, dist.), $12.95 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-931883-72-6
The latest from Hilbig (Old Rendering Plant) is a sparse yet challenging novel about a failed writer. Waller is so overwhelmed by the effort of storytelling that he can only write about storytelling itself. After decades of trying to write about his factory coworkers, he retreats to a site from childhood memory, a beautiful wood that has been turned into a garbage dump. There, in a fog of ash, he encounters the “garbagemen,” cast-offs from society who live amid the filth. These mysterious beings are described as frightening, though the bleak, elliptical prose is more preoccupied with language then scares. Waller’s attempts to ingratiate himself to them fail, so he settles for eavesdropping. Personal history is inconsequential here; the political remnants of a shadowy history are far more important. The garbagemen are living in the detritus of an erased nation (coffee grinders and party membership files, among other refuse). The novel picks up steam in an excellent middle sequence in which Waller moves into an abandoned shack, around which hundreds of mannequin bodies are stacked. In a wonderful bit of slapstick, Waller and the garbagemen take turns putting the dummies in crude poses every day in a sort of dialogue. It is a blissful spell of action and humor in a book that sometimes lacks clarity. Despite the short length, readers may find themselves wanting more to anchor them to the story. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/30/2018
Release date: 06/01/2018
Genre: Fiction
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