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June 7-13, 2006

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'In Strange Gardens and Other Stories'

In Strange Gardens And Other Stories
REVIEW (By Peter Stamm, translated by Michael Hoffman; Other Press; 243 pages; $24.95 cloth)
—Richard von Busack

An intelligent person's beach book. Swiss writer Peter Stamm's very short stories have the essence of melodrama: terminal illnesses, fatal betrayals and possible suicides. Yet Stamm strips them of any theatricality or wet sentiment. Even lust is just an uncomfortable form of loneliness that his characters feel, as if at arm's length. His people are wanderers: vacationers, expatriates and businessmen trapped in the light-industrial zones ringing the cities of Euroamerica. This edition compiles Stamm's two collections, Black Ice and In Strange Gardens. While "In the Outer Suburbs" is a piercing account of a glancing moment of kinship between strangers, never to be repeated, and while "What We Can Do" is a tragic account of an unplanned date between a desperate girl and a man who could never be her lover, the two best stories are Stamm's leads. "Black Ice" describes a journalist's useless efforts to maintain an emotional shield against the pathos of a young woman dying; "In Strange Gardens" is a remote sort of detective story, in which a tenderly cared-for yard is discovered to be a woman's short respite from lifelong misfortune. The mood of Stamm's stories could be summed up in one of his lines, describing an understanding of life: "The feeling of absolute meaninglessness that is at once sad and liberating."


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