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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Weight of Things

by
Marianne Fritz


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Weight of Things



Title: The Weight of Things
Author: Marianne Fritz
Genre: Novel
Written: 1978 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 138 pages
Original in: German
Availability: The Weight of Things - US
The Weight of Things - UK
The Weight of Things - Canada
Die Schwerkraft der Verhältnisse - Deutschland
  • German title: Die Schwerkraft der Verhältnisse
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Adrian Nathan West

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Our Assessment:

B+ : somber but nicely turned

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 13/12/2015 Alison McCulloch
Publishers Weekly . 31/8/2015 .


  From the Reviews:
  • "Written in a brisk tone that disguises its destination, this slow-­burning horror story steps quietly and methodically into a heart of familial darkness." - Alison McCulloch, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The narrative is slippery, never reliable or predictable, lyrical in one moment and transforming into dry domestic satire in the next. (...) (A) difficult (though innovative) reading experience" - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Marianne Fritz's The Weight of Things begins in 1945, the war coming to an end and Wilhelm Schrei coming to the home of Berta Faust and Wilhelmine. The war has taken its toll: the three Faust boys haven't been heard from recently and can be presumed dead, and Wilhelm was sent by Rudolf, the music teacher who knocked up Berta a few months earlier and clearly hasn't survived either. Wilhelmine suggests Wilhelm stay:

Nowadays all the cities look more or less the same. A heap of rubble is a heap of rubble no matter where you go. Nowadays everyone has to start from scratch.
       Readers quickly learn that Wilhelm married Wilhelmine -- but only in 1960; scenes from three years later have them visiting an institutionalized Berta. As to the events in the years between, these are only gradually revealed, as the novel's fairly short sections move fluidly back and forth across time.
       It turns out that Wilhelm married Berta first, and Berta had two children, Little Rudolf (the child she was pregnant with from Rudolf) and then Little Berta (Wilhelm's child). Wilhelm, who works as a chauffeur, hoped and expected to raise: "competent citizens with both feet on the ground", but, as a scene describing a boating excursion on a lake suggests, they can't swim and seem destined to flounder and sink.
       The family-idyll is tenuously held together:
Their lovely outings inevitably ended with her and the children embroiled in some catastrophe that Wilhelm somehow always knew how to fix.
       Of course, Wilhelm isn't always there -- and even when he is, Berta: "could only wonder why it was that this man Wilhelm was so difficult to fit into her life". Things go from bad to worse, with what promise at least Little Berta showed lost. As to the dissolution of the family, and the reasons for Berta's institutionalization, -- and Wilhelmine usurping Berta's place as Wilhelm's wife -- Fritz bides her time in revealing what transpired.
       "She's a child", Rudolf had told his friend Wilhelm, and Berta does seem limited from the beginning: when Wilhelm arrives it's Wilhelmine who does the talking and explaining, then as later Berta does little more than giggle and say: "So, so." (a refrain that echoes through to the story's conclusion in 1963). She isn't simple-minded, but the damage, of war, of loss, is evident. Tellingly, Fritz presents her having but unable or unwilling to articulate more complex thoughts:
     "When our little girl sleeps, she looks like the Madonna," Berta wanted to say, but did not.
       And:
     "When she's asleep, you know, she's not so caught up in the world, so concerned with the surface of things. The stamping and molding hands of life, the rolling, pressing, and flattening fingers -- the weight of things, life as such, it can't hurt her so long as she's asleep. It's that simple. Sleep startles everything away. Everything and everyone."
       Fragile Berta breaks -- and acts on this worldview she expressed (albeit not aloud) here; oblivious Wilhelm never saw any of it coming.
       It takes manipulative and controlling Wilhelmine many years to wrest control, but as was clear from practically the beginning, she eventually does. A necklace with a tiny Madonna is totem and symbol in the novel, from the opening sentences to its conclusion: making the necklace hers seems more important to Wilhelmine even than getting Wilhelm, while for institutionalized Berta it is one last hold she can cling to.
       As translator Adrian Nathan West also notes in an introductory note, Fritz is anything but subtle with her names and references in The Weight of Things, from the family names ('Schrei', 'Faust') to the fictional Austrian city where the action takes place, 'Donaublau' an obvious echo of the Straussian 'Blue Danube' melody that Rudolf played for Berta ("Do you get it ? 'The Blue Danube': Strauss, of all things. Do you understand me ?" Rudolf had recounted to Wilhelm). Elsewhere, word-choice and selection also matters, of course, and it's not easy to capture all the shadings in the English -- beginning with the title: interestingly, when published as an excerpt the closer-to-the-German 'The Gravity of Circumstances' was used (though even that fails to convey all of it, as, for example, 'Verhältnisse' also means 'relationships'). Despite some of the subtlety (and, as noted regarding the names, not-so-subtlety) that's lost here, the English version of The Weight of Things captures Fritz's dark arrangement strikingly well.
       Fritz's characters reveal little emotion or depth. Her descriptions remains surface -- actions, words, and occasional thoughts --, appropriate in a world that is, in so many ways, lacking. It's (almost surprisingly) effective, even as the characters remain in many ways ciphers -- what is Wilhelm thinking ? .....
       If the presentation, shifting back and forth across the years and events, seems at first confusing it ultimately works very well, and what seems like a low-intensity narrative comes to pack a devastating punch.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 October 2015

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Links:

The Weight of Things: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Marianne Fritz lived 1948 to 2007.

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© 2015 the complete review

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