cover image Once Again for Thucydides

Once Again for Thucydides

Peter Handke. New Directions Publishing Corporation, $22.95 (90pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1388-2

Like his recent novel, My Year in the No-Man's-Bay, this series of intimately described observations certainly doesn't qualify as fiction by most standards of measure. In neither work is Handke very concerned with character or plot in the usual sense. Each of these simple, elegant pieces very specifically identifies date and place, as in a travelogue, with the first-person narrator (often referring to himself in detached third-person terms such as ""the observer"") journeying to locations as distant as the Balkans or Japan. In keeping with Handke's ethic of clean, scrupulous description, ""The Shoeshine Man of Split"" celebrates the ""saint of small measures"" who performs perfectly the small act of shining a pair of shoes. The stories grow increasingly personal as the collection progresses, as in the strongest piece, ""The Short Fable of the Ash Tree in Munich,"" which is the narrator's minute diary of a tree's transformation; even here, however, a recognizably fictional narrator never emerges. Handke's observations are well served by the supple English prose of translator Lewis. Although this small book's avoidance of conventional drama makes it clear that its intended audience is a small one, Handke offers quiet pleasures, delivered in precise, carefully honed language that eschews metaphor in favor of detailed acts of perception. (Sept.)