cover image Couples, Passerby

Couples, Passerby

Botho Strauss. Northwestern University Press, $24.95 (126pp) ISBN 978-0-8101-1242-1

The frustrated but never-ending search for meaning and emotional connection finds hyper-intellectual expression in this collection of vignettes by German writer and playwright Strauss. In six linked sections, couples both longstanding and temporary cling together only to find greater loneliness and despair. Even the section titles are lower-cased, as if to designate the ephemeral nature of even lifetime relationships. The section titled ""couples"" features, among others, an old married couple who travel to Iceland in order to commit suicide safely away from home, and an American army deserter who hides in his German girlfriend's apartment from 1949 until her death. Strauss's alienated individuals are more likely to collide briefly, pointlessly or violently, as in the questioning of a repeat-offender junkie by a judge nicknamed ""Mother Treats"" (""by ourselves""), a pedestrian's flirtation with a Citroen driver that ends in an accident (""traffic flow"") or the ambiguous police shooting of a terrorist in 1978 (also in ""by ourselves""). Strauss's voice is stronger in these bleak vignettes than in either his musing, surrealistic descriptive passages or his grumblings about art and society. His mini-portraits and short-takes flow from the anonymously guilty Volk of the Third Reich to the historyless individuals of the Cold War and beyond. Some of the pieces are so undilutedly alienated they read almost as parody-German intellectualism at its most grim. Yet, others are truly haunting, reminding readers that postmodernism can translate as historical and emotional homelessness. (Dec.)