Karen Duve, , trans. from the German by Anthea Bell. . Bloomsbury USA, $14.95 (221pp) ISBN 978-0-7475-5745-6
Balding, short-sighted, self-centered and recently embarked on a shady literary project with a gangster/pimp, Leon Ulbricht, the writer protagonist of this witty, eccentric novel, is hardly the type one would want to bring home to meet the parents. Yet lovely Martina (formerly known as Roswitha Voss—a name which Leon felt marked her as a social misfit) falls head over heels for him and settles in for a life of apparent bucolic bliss. When the happy couple stumbles upon a quaint abode on the outskirts of an East German village for only 40,000 marks—a real steal—they hardly notice the putrid marshlands that serve as their backyard, or the constant torrential rain. While Martina is keen on socializing with their nearest neighbors, the strange yet endearing Schlei sisters, Kay and Isadora, Leon sets to work on writing the biography of gangster Pfitzner, who is paying him plenty, even if the work costs him his literary reputation. Distracted by a household plumbing nightmare ("He might just as well try bailing out Lake Constance with a nylon stocking") and by an infestation of slugs, Leon neglects his writing, with dire results. Pfitzner knocks on Leon's door, accompanied by Leon's unsavory friend Harry, terrorizing Martina and her loyal companion, winsome mutt Noah. Alerted by the appearance of Pfitzner's Mercedes, Kay and Isadora make haste to the Ulbrichts' house, where the spunky spinsters come to Martina's rescue. Deliciously deadpan, lavishly absurd and featuring a supporting cast of slimy swamp creatures, this deftly translated dark comedy is a razor-edged treat.
Reviewed on: 03/17/2003