cover image Accident


Christa Wolf. Farrar Straus Giroux, $15.95 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-374-10046-9

East German writer Wolf's ( Cassandra ) latest novel, a slender, claustrophobic monologue, distinguishes itself from much contemporary fiction in focussing on the essential: the destructive demiurge lurking under the human skullcap, a destructiveness apparently inextricably linked to our creative intelligence. But she fails to say anything illuminating or fresh about this well-worn subject or, except glancingly, to say it in an interesting way. Her 60-ish narrator, a grandmother living alone in a German village, is much occupied with tending her garden, but most of all--against a backdrop of beautiful spring weather--with the Chernobyl disaster then in progress. At the same time, in neat juxtaposition, she is preoccupied with the operation her brother is undergoing for a brain tumor. An epigraph and references make it clear that Wolf drew substantially on Carl Sagan's popular writings which, provocatively pithy as they may sometimes be, are insufficient in themselves to furnish an interesting novel. The culminating citation of Conrad's Heart of Darkness draws attention all too invidiously to Wolf's failure to develop her heartfelt perceptions, with the requisite creative and subtle imagination, into a novel that moves the heart and mind. (Apr.)