Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Freezing from the Inside

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Freezing from the Inside

Article excerpt

LOST WEDDINGS by Maria Beig, Translated by Peter Blickle and Jaimy Gordon, New York: Persea Books, 143 pp., $17.95

`READ is not lived," thunders one of Maria Beig's characters. True enough. But read is as close as any of us would care to get to the life endured by the four women of this unsentimental novel set in rural southern Germany from World War I to the end of World War II.

The soil of this region may be fertile, but social relations are sterile and harsh for those who do not take root in the area's restrictive traditions. Women are expected to marry. Should they fail to do so, they can look forward to a life that echoes the Book of Job: "days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and are spent without hope."

In four terse chapters Beig recounts the life histories of Babette, Helene, Klara, and Martha, unmarried women who are slowly eased from the network of family and friends. Having lost the possibility of a wedding, they have also loosened the bonds that tether them to the community. The novel's German title, "Hochzeitlose," carries the triple sense of loosening, loss, and hopelessness. Rich or poor, successful or bungling, these women cannot overcome the chill of exclusion. Despite their persistent efforts to seek the warmth of interpersonal relations, each suffers what Helene describes as the "constant sense of freezing from the inside."

Cut off from what they need, they inaugurate pathetic ritual substitutes. Babette creates her own sanctuary and says Mass. Helene develops a mania for marriage and birth announcements. Klara and Martha seek shelter in the dictates of urban fashion.

In the retelling, this sounds like the script of a three-hanky movie. But Beig's writing is as hard-bitten and blunt as an Army manual. …

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