A German Picturesque

A German Picturesque

by Jason Schwartz

Haunting in their tone, brilliant in their images—very like fantastic presences moving across glass—the twenty-one fictions in this startling debut collection seem both inexplicably familiar and like no writing we have seen before.
        The opening story leads us through a kaleidoscopic series of thoughts and

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Haunting in their tone, brilliant in their images—very like fantastic presences moving across glass—the twenty-one fictions in this startling debut collection seem both inexplicably familiar and like no writing we have seen before.
        The opening story leads us through a kaleidoscopic series of thoughts and memories around the act of writing a letter. Another, an intricately structured document of documents—household inventories, daily calendars, property deeds, an announcement—suggests the reality overflowing these mundane markers of our lives. Yet another traces the histories of five artifacts, while at the same time slyly assembling five miniature biographical portraits.
        Point of view is important: Elements of a house, for example, are seen from the perspective of an adult and of a child. And a wedding unfolds in conflicting word snapshots taken by the bride and groom and other guests, each providing a unique and sometimes disturbing impression.
        Phantasmagoric episodes of travel appear in several entries—an encyclopedic vision of a voyage at sea, a family's cross-country railroad trip through a timeless America, or the revealing journey to Spain by two elderly sisters.
        An exhilarating experiment in language and form, A German Picturesque is at once a challenge and a great pleasure to read.

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Editorial Reviews

Associated Press
By the time you've finished reading Jason Schwartz's A German Picturesque, you will have joined in a family history in which people flash in and out of surroundings that are pictured in few words but in utmost detail. One literally joins this family, for in these vivid, short stories subdivided into even shorter parts, Schwartz speaks directly to the reader....The writing style is definitely effective, but don't count on having gotten all the details straight.
Central PA
Schwartz's set of daring experiments within the art of storytelling verge on prose poetry; they're densely compact, pronouncedly rhythmic, highly sonorous--a word-driven journey....The author's stories hold a sensibility from another time, a refined dignity, something portentous and ethereal, like whispers between lovers....Schwartz's writing is for those who love language and a challenge, for readers who are undaunted by imagist renderings of time and space, and especially for those who can set aside their expectations of short story and take a leap of faith into graceful but unfamiliar terrain.
Detroit Free Press
An intricate, barely perceptible methodology underpin[s] the surface madness: A careful construct of repeated words, phrases and description lends the book a steady, subtle pulse which belies a guiding inner logic that is entirely its own....Schwartz glides ever onward into the shadow-world of willful obscurity, suspended upon the surface tension of his own cleverness. Those whose idea of a good-time read is a literary Rubik's Cube have a colorful new toy on their hands.
Entertainment Weekly
Most of these 21 experimental short stories revolve around finely descriptive passages of decor and dress....Each depicts antique mementos...and the flickering windows they afford on past events and people....Schwartz's moody, miniaturist tableaux are admittedly precious, but they richly capture the power of historical objects.
Los Angeles Times Book Review
Consider that the older goblet had been immured, with certain persons, and with a hand bell and a poniard, at a nunnery in Worms.' OK, now try this: 'Well, the pall in the bother--the gnaw and the mewl, so to speak, in the wool. The terrifying stoop, the color at the windows, an odor. Mercy, how it was stopped (and settled).' You're trying, aren't you, to understand what these quotes refer to, and I'm here to tell you that they do not refer to anything. And to everything. If you let them, and if you have a reasonable image bank in your mind from movies, paintings, plays or music, the nouns will be the bones, the adjectives the cartilage or skin and the verbs will be the organs....I love the story 'Octave.
New York Times Book Review
Grandly intrepid....In story after story, [Schwartz's] cool language scrutinizes the world; behind this smooth prose seethe the violence and confusion of many lives, many acts....Schwartz's work contains genuine passion and invention--and an enormous appetite for challenging himself and his audience.
Review of Contemporary Fiction
Schwartz's book very deliberately maps an enclosed stylistic space, exhausting all its possibilities. At their best, these are striking pieces, simple yet opaque. An unusual, interesting, and somewhat claustrophobic book, A German Picturesque shows Schwartz operating in a style entirely his own.
Library Journal - Library Journal
Schwartz's first book lies somewhere between short stories and poetry. His stories, sometimes only a page in length, investigate such events as a train ride, a visit to a garrison, or a wedding through an impressionistic stream of consciousness. Often, an object will evoke a flow of ideas; for example, the image of a postage stamp leads to an image of slaughter. Words are spare but significant, and they echo long after being read. -- Joshua Cohen, Mid-Hudson Library System, Poughkeepsie, NY
Kirkus Reviews
Likely to please the few and puzzle the many, Schwartz debuts with what may be the most impeccably sustained verbal experiment in fiction since, say, Ben Marcus's The Age of Wire and String (1996). Here are 21 tiny stories that look at life sideways, in whispers, and, most importantly, by indirection. Often, a reader isn't even certain who's being talked about ('He tends to his correspondence. Millicent, for instance, in France. Mother dear'); and just as often, as the prose makes its delicate but indefatigable way forward, this uncertainty clearly doesn't matter. Schwartz's pieces can keep a reader mystified in almost every way who, why, what, where but never in the perfect logic of sentences moving forward one after another: what comes next, comes next, most often brilliantly and sometimes breathtakingly. Frequently the author will dip into history ('The godless florin, which was first issued in 1807'); he will move from Europe ('King Leopold's skull, if we are to believe the story, is buried at the foot of the tower') to America ('Armstrong, Happy Valley, Stink River') and back again. He will allude, over and over, to people, events, places that haven't been introduced as though they have been ('the cellar where the children were starved'; 'this room had been the child's, you know"), and his endings will drop unexpectedly, simply, and perfectly into silence ('The window, of course, is dark' ; 'A bug crawls across the tabletop'). Schwartz's vast but miniaturist genius is for seeing the enormous in the tiny ('The newspaper, atop which the fellow sets a tumbler, reports upon a battle'), the significant in the silent ('(The moon to digress is gone)'), the horror-filled in themute ('the rings, with a silver brooch, had been lost in the mud'), the voicelessly poetic in almost everything. An extraordinary, associative, allusive artist whose stories in scope, skill, innuendo, subtlety are like reading T.S. Eliot in prose.

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Product Details

Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.18(w) x 7.85(h) x 0.69(d)

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