cover image The Shadow of the Coachman’s Body

The Shadow of the Coachman’s Body

Peter Weiss, trans. from the German by Rosmarie Waldrop. New Directions, $12.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-0-8112-3161-9

Weiss (The Aesthetics of Resistance) follows in this intensely visual story an unnamed narrator’s attempts at documenting all he sees at his boardinghouse over the course of several days. The narrator starts by observing his muddy, damp surroundings while using the outhouse. By his own account, his attempts to write are perennially stalled, comprised of “short, broken-off beginnings.” Nevertheless, he keeps at it. At dinner, he details the looks of the housekeeper and other boarders, and how they fill their plates, use their utensils, and cant their arms. Later, he watches through a keyhole as a father beats his son. An evening party in the housekeeper’s room turns farcical, with furniture getting broken and people being locked in a closet. When his observations grow too dull to produce any writing, he retreats to his attic room, where he puts salt in his eyes to induce visions. Weiss’s lifelike descriptions, for example as the narrator imagines shapes and colors morphing into the shape of a woman, are complemented with surreal illustrations by the author. This captivating exercise rises above its mundane and grotesque material. (Apr.)