In Strange Gardens and Other Stories

In Strange Gardens and Other Stories

by Peter Stamm
     
 

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With the precision of a surgeon, Peter Stamm cuts to the heart of the fragile and revealing moments of everyday life.

They are bankers, students, mothers, or retirees. They live in New York City or somewhere in Switzerland, they work in London or Riga, they cross paths in a Fado bar in Lisbon. They breathe the banal routine of daily life. It is to these ordinary

Overview

With the precision of a surgeon, Peter Stamm cuts to the heart of the fragile and revealing moments of everyday life.

They are bankers, students, mothers, or retirees. They live in New York City or somewhere in Switzerland, they work in London or Riga, they cross paths in a Fado bar in Lisbon. They breathe the banal routine of daily life. It is to these ordinary people that Peter Stamm grants center stage in his latest collection of short stories. Henry, a cowherd turned stuntman, crisscrosses the country, dreaming of meeting a woman. Inger, the Dane, refuses her skimpy life and takes off for Italy. Regina, so lonely in her big house since her children left and her husband passed away, discovers the world anew thanks to the Australian friend of her granddaughter, who helps Regina envision her next voyage.

In these stories, Stamm's clean style expresses despair without flash, through softness and small gestures, with disarming retorts full of derision and infinite tenderness. There, where life hesitates, ready to tip over—with nothing yet played out—is where these people and their stories exist. For us, they all become exceptional. Praise for Unformed Landscape: "Sensitive and unnerving. . . . An uncommonly intimate work, one that will remind the reader of his or her own lived experience with a greater intensity than many of the books that are published right here at home." —The New Republic Online

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The grim novel Unformed Landscape by the Swiss-German author Stamm was set in a blank, chilly Northern Europe; this collection of 20 stories features an ill-fitting assortment of emotionally shallow characters moving through similarly textureless locales. The stories chronicle pointless intersections between strangers in Manhattan, or odd, inexplicable entanglements among campers or vacationers to Italy or passengers on a train. The young Finnish woman, Lotta, who rents her West Village apartment to the visiting German narrator in "Flotsam," is typically enigmatic: Lotta sleeps most of the time, and on a weekend trip to the seashore with the narrator and his friends, she eventually wanders off with one of the men, moving through life in reaction to the will and aims of others. The stories are narrated with clinical detachment, and are often hauntingly impressionistic, as in "Black Ice," set in a TB hospital ward of an unnamed industrial city, where the narrator, a journalist, seeks out a terminally ill patient to interview over the course of several days. Larissa, a young married woman from Kazakhstan, no longer has visitors and little to engage her beside the TV, and yet to the unmovable narrator (more emotionally dead than she is) she notes, "Desire never stops." Stamm derives his narrative power from absence and void. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Most of the individuals in these austerely written stories by Swiss novelist Stamm (Unformed Landscape, 2005, etc.) lead humdrum but desperate lives. To read all 20, assembled from two volumes of stories published separately in German, is to visit a literary purgatory where a throng of dispirited characters cling to a comfortless bare rock of prose. His characters, whether Swiss or Costa Rican, visiting New York or working in London, share a world culture of Alec Guinness, Tracy Chapman, Walt Whitman and Star Trek that does nothing to bring them closer together. Many of these stories involve love that fails or a despairing plea for help or solace that goes unanswered. In "Like a Child, Like an Angel," a wealthy Swiss accountant never responds to a letter from a poor colleague who needs an expensive medicine for his wife. In "The Wall of Fire," an exploited outcast working for a carnival puts himself at risk to impress a girl to whom he means almost nothing. The narrator of "What We Can Do" rebuffs the embarrassed advances of a sad office mate to whom their mutual colleagues have given the cruel gift of a vibrator. "Black Ice" is perhaps the bleakest: Larissa, a young mother dying of a resistant strain of tuberculosis tells "everything she had thought in the last few months" to a journalist because no one else-not even her husband-has visited her for months. The misery radiates to the smallest details. Larissa mentions a neighbor with a broken TV "who keeps switching it on anyway and staring at the black screen." In Stamm's world, when three young friends laugh and sunbathe on a station platform, they do so only until a train pulls up to unload the corpse of a suppliant who has died on theway to Lourdes. While Stamm doesn't discount the possibility of happiness and comradeship, there is invariably an ounce of joy for every pound of gloom.
From the Publisher
Kirkus Review

Most of the individuals in these austerely written stories by Swiss novelist Stamm (Unformed Landscape, 2005, etc.) lead humdrum but desperate lives...While Stamm doesn't discount the possibility of happiness and comradeship, there is invariably an ounce of joy for every pound of gloom.

Bookforum

“Stamm’s cool, observational style often lends the impression that he is passing through his stories, witnessing the unfolding of events from the window as he goes by. Something of the peculiar dynamic among passengers—safeguarding their anonymity in the proximity of strangers, impinging imperceptibly on one another’s lives, sharing an elusive intimacy that is intrinsically disconnected—seeps into the relationships of his characters. Finally, his unique sense of place corresponds to what he calls the ‘empty, timeless space of train travel,’ the sensation of inhabiting a transitory nowhere. His characters dwell in this negative space, out of place in the ‘strange gardens’ in which they find themselves. Using them as receptors of the word, Stamm registers restlessness and unease, irresolution, glimpses of the void….With artful understatement, Stamm conveys the mutability of experience, a phenomenon as inscrutable as variations in the weather."

Seattle Times

Wingate Packard
These particular stories leap off the page, a pleasant surprise ....

ABC Magazine

...short story collections [that] particularly impressed me: Peter Stamm's In Strange Gardens and Other Stories...Stamm is Swiss, and writes in German. His stories seem very cool, but it's the kind of cool that burns.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590514986
Publisher:
Other Press, LLC
Publication date:
04/12/2011
Pages:
249
Sales rank:
717,602
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.50(d)

Meet the Author

Peter Stamm was born in 1963, in Weinfelden, Switzerland. He is the author of the novel, Agnes (1998), and numerous short stories and radio plays. He lives outside of Zurich.

Michael Hofmann has translated Bertolt Brecht, Joseph Roth, Patrick S, Herta Mueller, and Franz Kafka. He won the Translators' Association's Schlegel-Tieck Prize twice in 1988 for his adaptation of The Double Bass by Patrick S (1987), and in 1993 for his rendering of Wolfgang Koeppen's Death in Rome (1992). In 1999 he won the PEN/Book of the Month Club Translation Prize for The String of Pearls. His translation of his father's novel The Film Explainer, by Gert Hofmann, won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 1995. He has written and translated more than 35 books, winning eight awards for his translations and his poetry

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