cover image In Strange Gardens and Other Stories

In Strange Gardens and Other Stories

Peter Stamm, , trans. from the German by Michael Hofmann. . Other Press, $24.95 (243pp) ISBN 978-1-59051-169-5

The grim novel Unformed Landscape by the Swiss-German author Stamm was set in a blank, chilly Northern Europe; this collection of 20 stories features an ill-fitting assortment of emotionally shallow characters moving through similarly textureless locales. The stories chronicle pointless intersections between strangers in Manhattan, or odd, inexplicable entanglements among campers or vacationers to Italy or passengers on a train. The young Finnish woman, Lotta, who rents her West Village apartment to the visiting German narrator in "Flotsam," is typically enigmatic: Lotta sleeps most of the time, and on a weekend trip to the seashore with the narrator and his friends, she eventually wanders off with one of the men, moving through life in reaction to the will and aims of others. The stories are narrated with clinical detachment, and are often hauntingly impressionistic, as in "Black Ice," set in a TB hospital ward of an unnamed industrial city, where the narrator, a journalist, seeks out a terminally ill patient to interview over the course of several days. Larissa, a young married woman from Kazakhstan, no longer has visitors and little to engage her beside the TV, and yet to the unmovable narrator (more emotionally dead than she is) she notes, "Desire never stops." Stamm derives his narrative power from absence and void. (Apr.)