ON A DAY LIKE THIS: A NOVEL, by Peter Stamm, translated from German by Michael Hofmann, Other Press, 229 pages, $23.95.
Peter Stamm, a prolific Swiss author, has written two novels and numerous short stories and radio plays.
Michael Hofmann has written several of his own books of poetry and essays and has translated the works of a number of German writers, including Franz Kafka, Joseph Roth and Peter Stephan Jungk.
This novel could better be described as an existential mood piece or a character study, because the plot is thin and the narrative is terse. Andreas is the protagonist who teaches public school in a suburb of Paris and lives alone in a small apartment.
As he approaches middle age, his life is increasingly monotonous. He eats, sleeps, watches TV, occasionally dates women, but he has essentially no friends and no real objective in life.
He cares little about family, and when he sees families struggling, he is glad he never had one. When his students show signs of parental pressure, he is equally glad. He reads almost nothing and has no outside activities. But he often thinks about Fabienne, a girl he was obsessed with as a youth. He can't forget the one time he kissed her and wonders how life would be different had he stayed in the village and pursued her.
Little by little he loses interest in teaching and finds that his students annoy him.
Andreas experiences some health problems, resulting in a nasty cough that won't go away. When he finally visits the doctor he finds a problem with his lungs that requires a biopsy, an unpleasant experience that causes Andreas to obsess about his mortality. When the doctor's office calls and asks him to come in and discuss the results, he goes but then impulsively leaves the office before he gets a diagnosis.
Thinking about how his life may be shortened causes Andreas to make a quick and dramatic decision he quits his job, sells his apartment, throws away most of his possessions, rents a car and drives to the little village where he was raised in Switzerland. Mainly, he thinks about a reunion with Fabienne, even though he knows she is married.
He has no idea what will happen when they meet, but he has to see her. He hasn't seen her in so long that he can no longer recall a visual image of her face, but he knows she was beautiful. Indeed, when he meets her, her beauty stuns him.Although the novel is notably simplistic, there is a compelling quality to it. The reader is likely to feel a need to finish it even if he fears disappointment in the end. It seems odd that, in a place as exciting as Paris often is to Americans, Andreas' existence is boring. But when he quits his job, his life is destined to change.