Outwardly normal events slip into drama before they tip into horror. These oblique tales exert a fascinating hold over the reader. – Meike Ziervogel, Peirene Press –
Maybe This Time is a translated collection of short stories by Alois Hotschnig, who is considered to be one of Austria’s most talented writers. The collection includes nine stories, some as short as two pages long, which are surreal and dreamlike and often baffling. In The Same Silence, the Same Noise a man obsessively watches his neighbors as they sit, day in and day out, on a pier overlooking the water. What begins as an obsession, begins to become paranoia with a touch of narcissism.
My attitude clearly had to change. But I didn’t know how to get away from these two. I simply didn’t exist for them, and that is how they hooked me. They refused contact, yet they willingly exposed themselves to me. I had caught the scent of their lives, which obviously had reached some sort of premature end. I had fed on them, devoured them, and now I wanted more. I couldn’t resist absorbing their most fleeting emotions as my own, and so I carried them inside me and I lived out their disquiet, which was also my disquiet. – from The Same Silence, the Same Noise –
Perhaps the oddest story in the collection is Then A Door Opens and Swings Shut. In this dreamlike narrative, a man is invited into an old lady’s home where he discovers a doll which looks like him – actually, there are several dolls which resemble him at various times in his life. The man continues to return to the woman’s house, drawn there by the visions he is able to see from his past. The story becomes less of a dream, and more like a nightmare when the woman begins to consume the doll – essentially consuming the man. This is clearly a symbolic tale of losing oneself to another.
I had surrendered myself to her and continued to abandon myself to her and to the images she showed me of myself. And so I returned to her every day, and before long it was as if I lived with her. – from Then A Door Opens and Swings Shut –
The publisher compares Hotschnig’s writing to Kafka whose themes of alienation and persecution seem to fit many of the stories in Hotschnig’s collection. With the exception of two stories, none of the characters have names and are referred to as “the man” or “the woman” which creates a feeling of disconnection. Names are so important to our uniqueness as human beings, and in Hotschnig’s world characters have lost that essential part of their identity. Despite this feeling of alienation, the characters are drawn to others, seeking something in other people which they do not have within themselves. In the title story Maybe This Time, Maybe Now, a family comes together for special occasions and waits for an uncle who never arrives. Despite the frustration of always waiting but never having any resolution, they continue to play out the same scene time after time.
It happens time after time. And time after time while I am with my family at my parents’ house, sitting in the garden or at the dinner table, my mind wanders to my front door where someone might perhaps be waiting. Then I look at each member of my family in turn and think how impossible it is to escape these family ties. No one has managed it except Walter, and for him there was a price which we all must pay. – from Maybe This Time, Maybe Now –
I found this collection to be decidedly odd and often confusing. The stories feel as though we are wading through very thick mud which sucks us in, yet makes us want to escape. Often I felt as though I were in a dream where things start out making sense, but soon devolve into confusion. I think it might have been helpful to read this book as part of a literature class or book group where symbolism and underlying meaning could have been teased out. To be truthful, I am not even sure how to rate this slim book. It was not something I enjoyed, and yet it is strangely compelling. So, I am doing something here I have never done before – I am leaving this book as “unrated.”
Readers who enjoy literary short fiction, and authors like Kafka, may want to pick up a copy of this collection.
Other reviews of the book:
- Book After Book
- The Guardian
- Andrew Blackman
- The Worm Hole
- Green Integrator Blog
- The Parrish Lantern
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alois Hotschnig, born in 1959, is one of Austria’s most critically acclaimed authors, eliciting comparison with Franz Kafka and Thomas Bernhard. He has written novels, short stories and plays. His books have won major Austrian and International honours, such as the Italo-Svevo award and the Erich-Fried nomination. Die Kinder beruhigte das nicht was first published in German in 2006.
ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR
Tess Lewis has been translating from German and French for two decades. For her translations of Peter Handke, Alois Hotschnig, Pascale Bruckner and Philippe Sollers she has been awarded PEN Translation Fund grants and an NEA Translation Fellowship.
FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.