cover image Living Glimmering Lying

Living Glimmering Lying

Botho Strauss. Hydra Books, $26.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-8101-1283-4

German dramatist and author Strauss (Couples, Passersby) aims for catharsis through language in this series of somber, tightly crafted vignettes about Berliners who are emotionally and professionally adrift. The book's bleak tone is established in the first piece, about a man waiting for a train that most likely will not come. His ""profound patience"" will not allow him to acknowledge any evidence (the closed-down station) that might ""wear on his spirit in any way."" Strauss's narrators, whether telling their stories in the first or third person, are middle-aged intellectuals and observers resigned to their fates and often undone by ""rare conjunctions"" and ""borderline encounters."" In one piece, a documentary filmmaker explains (to an unnamed interrogator) why he ""never got to the big questions."" He blames his estranged wife for having wrecked his career: ""This woman forced her way into my sphere like the angel of death."" In one of the longer sections, a married man relates how his first love, after 20 years of disastrous love affairs, gradually insinuates herself back into his life until he unravels completely. ""In case you're interested,"" she tells him off-handedly, ""we belong to each other."" Despite Strauss's beautifully limpid writing, the reader craves more continuity than is provided, and latches onto the first-person segments hoping for an engagement that rarely manifests itself. In the end, these disconnected speeches spin themselves out emptily, as in the last section, a long Jamesian diatribe on the illusory nature of history and language delivered by a ""philosophical pit bull."" The speaker laments, ""We see nothing correctly, we are blind imbeciles, bustling fools""--which justly characterizes Strauss's restless souls. (Sept.)