Magazine article World Literature Today

Two or Three Years Later: Forty-Nine Digressions

Magazine article World Literature Today

Two or Three Years Later: Forty-Nine Digressions

Article excerpt

Ror Wolf. Two or Three Years Later: Forty-Nine Digressions. Jennifer Marquart, tr. Rochester, New York. Open Letter. 2013. isbn 9781934824702

Open Letter Books takes chances with German writers, and for this we should be thankful. Last September, it released Benjamin Stein's intertwining dual-narrative The Canvas, a reading experience that literally requires turn- ing the book around and upside down. This year, the publishers continue the experimentation with Two or Three Years Later: Forty-Nine Digressions, a surrealist collection from Ror Wolf.

Among his vocations, Wolf is a col- lagist and poet; the two crafts inform this spare assemblage perfectly. Thick with mystery, Two or Three Years Later is divided into two parts: the first half consists of forty-eight vignettes no longer than a few pages, some as short as a single paragraph. These sketches are ambiguous, comical, and often gro- tesque peeks at the lives of amorphous German men. Death occurs often. The second half-the forty-ninth digres- sion-is a twelve-part chronicle of the narrator's dreamlike journey around the world.

Wolf's book is fast, sometimes outrageous, and always surreal. The short stories in the first half don't track smoothly, but rather sputter along. The tales cough, stop, reverse, and start again. The style is refresh- ingly unique but can be wearisome. There are no solid characters or narra- tives onto which we can grab.

A typical story begins with a diversion and then mixes in a series of distractions and sleight of hand before ending with a tease. "At the Barber- shop," for example, begins with a man committing a murder, "but that's not the story I wanted to tell," the narrator says with a sidestep. Other incidents are then recalled before the report ends abruptly: "However, such events are extremely rare, so it's not entirely nec- essary to go too far into the details. …

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