cover image Agnes


Peter Stamm, trans. from the German by Michael Hofmann. Other Press, $18.95 (160p) ISBN 978-1-59051-811-3

The brief, lucid chapters in Stamm’s (All Days Are Night) short novel, first published in Germany in 1998, hint at something deeper roiling underneath. At the same time, there’s a wryness throughout, reminiscent of Beckett’s deadpan humor, precluding any pretentiousness. The first-person narrator, a writer, could be Stamm himself. The story’s opening is a puckish grabber. “Agnes is dead. Killed by a story. All that’s left of her now is this story.” So how literally is the reader to take this? Stamm blurs the line between the writer’s life and his creations, both for his protagonist and the reader. He meets Agnes in the reading room of the Chicago Public Library. They both have other lovers whom they freely talk about, as well as their writing. He in fact writes the story of Agnes even as he is living it. And she collaborates; writing her life becomes his obsession. Nevertheless, he begins an affair with an alluring Frenchwoman named Louise. When he is with her, he doesn’t think about Agnes, who meantime may be having his child, at least in his imagination. The real Agnes has a miscarriage; from there, the path to her demise is inevitable yet surprising. This is a provocative and mesmerizing book. (Oct.)