31 July 17 | Kaija Straumanis

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Dorian Stuber on Agnes by Peter Stamm, published last fall by Other Press.

Dorian Stuber teaches at Hendrix College; his reviews and essays have been published in Open Letters Monthly, Numéro Cinq, The Quarterly Conversation, and The Scofield.

Here’s the beginning of Dorian’s review:

The narrator of Peter Stamm’s first novel, Agnes, originally published in 1998 and now available in the U.S. in an able translation by Michael Hofmann, is a young Swiss writer who has come to Chicago to research a book on American luxury trains. In the reading room of the Public Library he meets Agnes, a graduate student in Physics. They have little in common. The narrator values his freedom more than his happiness. Agnes is prey to various fears—of windows that don’t open, of air conditioners, of elevators—and locks herself in the bathroom to change. It’s unclear that either likes the other, though each claims to be in love.

Despite these unpropitious signs, the two embark on a relationship that is aimless until they turn it into a narrative. “Write a story about me,” Agnes asks the narrator, “so I know what you think of me.” At first both enjoy the challenge she’s set him. But what begins as a flirtatious parlor game soon turns darker. When tragedy strikes, the narrator turns to the story to reverse the past. But eventually he no longer writes their story; the story writes them.

Agnes is most affected by this turn of events. Having already expressed her difficulty with reading—“It feels to me as though I’ve become the character in it, and the character’s life ends when the books does . . . I didn’t want books to have me in their power”—she now becomes one with her character in the fiction within the fiction, leading to an ambiguous ending in which the end of Stamm’s novel mirrors the end of his narrator’s tale.


For the rest of the review, go here.


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