cover image The Tale of a Dog: From the Diaries and Letters of a Texan Bankruptcy Judge

The Tale of a Dog: From the Diaries and Letters of a Texan Bankruptcy Judge

Lars Gustafsson. New Directions Publishing Corporation, $11.95 (182pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1395-0

In the first of the 31 terse, cerebral chapters of Swedish writer Gustafsson's 1993 roman noir, Texan federal judge Erwin Caldwell watches the 16mm footage from the film of his birth in order to confirm that he in fact exists. His philosophical and moral inquiry is prompted by the sudden, suspect death of his one-time spiritual adviser and revered professor of semantics, Jan van de Rouwers. The latter's demise reveals--traumatically for the Jewish Caldwell--his past as a Nazi collaborator in WWII Holland. Caldwell, whose psychic breakdown Gustofsson narrates in cool and tidy prose, begins to dig into his own past after he confesses to the district attorney that he's responsible for a brutal unsolved murder. Through journal entries and correspondence with a college friend, Caldwell traces the murderous impulse that caused him first to beat a stray dog to death, and eventually to kill another human being. Meanwhile, his wife of three decades is overweight and drinks too much, and Caldwell finds relief for his pent-up rage in an affair with the 30ish owner of a campus bookshop whose possibly mad husband has disappeared while on a search for God. The unease fostered by Gustofsson's disjointed style becomes more palpable as this provoking, if occasionally dry and disjointed, novel nears its bleak end. The pellucid, pliant translation is, however, somewhat marred by jarring Britishisms. (Feb.)