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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Two or Three Years Later

Ror Wolf

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To purchase Two or Three Years Later

Title: Two or Three Years Later
Author: Ror Wolf
Genre: Stories
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 142 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Two or Three Years Later - US
Two or Three Years Later - UK
Two or Three Years Later - Canada
Two or Three Years Later - India
Zwei oder drei Jahre später - Deutschland
  • Forty-Nine Digressions
  • German title: Zwei oder drei Jahre später: neunundvierzig Ausschweifungen
  • This is an expanded edition of Wolf's earlier Zwei oder drei Jahre später: siebenundvierzig Ausschweifungen (2003)
  • Translated by Jennifer Marquart

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Our Assessment:

B+ : an intriguing approach, offering constant surprises

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ* . 7/9/2003 pap.
Publishers Weekly . 8/4/2013 .
World Literature Today . 7-8/2013 Shaun Randol

  From the Reviews:
  • "Schön wär's, wenn der vorliegende Band, übrigens ein guter Einstieg in Wolfs beim gleichen Verlag erschienene «Werke in Einzelbänden», nicht nur professionelle Leser fände." - pap., Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "The narrator of Wolfís "digressions" emerges as the most vivid and interesting character, and although many of these pieces have nominal plots, more present is the playful treatment of the nature of storytelling and the relationship between author and reader. (...) Consistently quirky." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Wolfís book is fast, sometimes outrageous, and always surreal. The short stories in the first half donít track smoothly, but rather sputter along. The tales cough, stop, reverse, and start again. The style is refreshingly unique but can be wearisome. (...) My mind tended to wander, until I reached the dreamlike '49th Digression: Twelve Chapters from an Exposed Life.' Here, at last, we follow a singular character through his nightmarish global travels. The closing chapters are more linear and descriptive but remain completely mad." - Shaun Randol, World Literature Today

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:

       Two or Three Years Later was originally published in German as a collection of forty-seven digressions, in 2003; this translation is of the expanded 2007 edition that encompasses forty-nine digressions. The difference is a sizable one: at fifty pages the new, final piece, 'The Forty-Ninth Digression' with its 'Twelve Chapters from an Exposed Life', takes up more than a third of the complete volume.
       The pieces in Two or Three Years Later are unusual narratives. They hardly qualify as stories, and yet they're not just digressive pieces, either.
       The narrator is aware of an audience -- "Ladies and Gentlemen", he addresses it in opening one piece; "My dear Ladies and Gentlemen" is how he opens the final one -- and often very conscious of the fact that he is relating something to someone -- yet time and again he knots himself up in the very act of telling, and constantly he weighs what to reveal, and what not to. Typically -- if not always as specifically -- his story-journey begins:

Last Monday I began to describe a man, who turned the corner of 82nd Street with a tremendous yawn. I didn't want to describe his yawn, in any case it's indescribable, and I didn't want to describe how he turned the corner, but rather, I wanted to describe how this man -- or differently, differently. I'll start over, and with the following words:
       And on it goes in that vein. "After we've started four or five times, we'll start again", he suggests elsewhere. Or, abruptly he decides: "no, a different beginning".
       Even when he starts off with something that at first seems more promisingly story-like he opts for the fade and about-turn:
A man, a sales broker, walked through the door and fired six shots at a naked dentist, painting the bed red. A naked woman jumped out of the bed and disappeared through the back door. The dentist died, and the broker fled the country. But that's not the story I wanted to tell. I wanted to tell the following story:
       These are vignettes with characters and events that remain almost entirely elusive. 'The District Office Employee Outing' is a concise example, reading in its entirety:
During a company picnic in Dux, a well-dressed woman suddenly rushed to a man lying on the ground, bent over him, and whispered a few words into his ear, at which point they quickly disappeared into the neighboring darkness. I'll leave it to the reader to decide how this story continues, but I'm sure he'll draw the right conclusion in order to continue on to the next page.
       Even where he offers specificity -- assigning a name to a protagonist -- people and actions remain impossible to pin down with much certainty, and he refuses to follow through in any greater detail or focus. It's as if alighting on or even just glimpsing any person, object, or occurrence causes him to immediately want to look beyond it -- not deeper into it, as might be expected, but away from it. So even a major metropolis:
Perhaps I should talk about Berlin now, about this slowly evaporating city on the edge of Central Europe, about the pleasure and pain of Berlin. However, I don't believe that there is pleasure or pain in Berlin. I don't believe there is a Berlin. And if Berlin actually does exist, then I can only say that it's completely superfluous to talk about it. Berlin is completely unimportant, completely indifferent. Berlin is not worth discussing
       Even an 'evaporating city', one that by his definition is fading of its own accord, is still too substantial a subject. To briefly consider discussing it -- "Perhaps I should talk about Berlin now" -- is already sufficient to conclude it: "is not worth discussing".
       His reductio -- not so much ad absurdum, but of what amounts to willful negation -- finds its most complete expression in 'An Almost Complete Portrayal of the Conditions in Maybe Waabs', which reads in its entirety:
A man, whose name Iíve thankfully forgotten, came up to me and said something that Iíve thankfully forgotten. It happened in a city whose name escapes me, on a day I donít remember, or on a night I donít remember. I canít say anything about the weather. I also canít say what happened later. I know nothing about the beginning and even less about the end. I did, however, notice that never in my life had I experienced anything quite as dangerous as I had in this moment. But I forgot about it.
       Wolf essentially presents the inverse of experience, the hollow that remains when experience, memory, and substance have been removed. As such, much of Two or Three Years Later is the antithesis of the super-detailed wallows in experience that are so common in contemporary fiction. It's an unusual exercise, but one he manages well.
       'The Penultimate Story' -- the final one before the shift that comes with the volume-concluding 'The Forty-Ninth Digression' -- closes with the sentence: "No one can tell what happens next." It is this idea that Wolf has embraced completely, his world one in which there may be some causality -- but even if there is, it's unüberschaubar, beyond our grasp. These stories do not neatly lead from point A to B, and Wolf is not interested in what lies behind specific actions. Arguably, these stories lead nowhere -- but Wolf's bigger picture is of a world of such infinite uncertainty: regardless, "No one can tell what happens next". And this is Wolf's premise, as opposed to the many writers who insist on imposing order on their carefully imagined, structured, and recounted worlds. There's an artifice to Wolf's fictions (carefully structured and written, too, in their own way), but it is not the usual artifice of naturalist (or much other) fiction.
       The much longer (even as it is also sub-divided) final story represents a shift of sorts. It's a more sustained effort, a more valiant attempt at storytelling that even, for example, steadily advances chronologically (as an (auto)biographical account). Yet even as he sticks to chronological progression there are points when he reduces it simply to:
     Some time passed.
     Some more time passed.
     Now, I was met with a sad sight. So sad, that I could've never imagined it possible.
     Thankfully, some more time passed.
       There's a great deal of journeying in this piece, as the narrator travels far afield, finds himself going overboard and is, repeatedly, literally adrift. He sees the world, in a manner of speaking, but place remains elusive. He travels to the Americas and Australia, and wants to cross Africa on foot, for example, taking notes along the way, but the record he offers the reader is an active sort of reconstruction that skips over the details usually found in travelers' reports, more immersed in the act of documentation, of writing, than in presenting what was experienced and encountered. So also, for example, a chapter begins self-referentially:
     I assume it's likely that, on the next pages of my reports, I'll leave Africa to continue life in another part of the world.
       Typically, along the way, he also makes no impression. In a rare sequence describing actual activities he was engaged in he's little more than an unseen, unheard spectre:
     In Halifax I worked as a solo entertainer, but without noteworthy success; the audience didn't pay any attention to me, they paid, and left. In the London fog I stood at a small table at the weekly market and sold a cleaning agent. But no one stopped. No one listened to me.
       Only the concluding chapter offers more interaction -- still one-sided ("You sit there, Sir, and I'll talk; I'll make use of words while you remain silent") but certainly with some heightened tension and drama.
       In this configuration (as opposed to the original 2003 edition), Two or Three Years Later offers forty-eight digressions and one digressive novella that's a bit of an uneasy fit after the rest. Still, taken as a two-part collection (the many shorter pieces, the one longer one), it offers a variety of reading pleasures. Wolf's unusual approach(es) make for pieces that constantly surprise. It is storytelling that reassesses itself at every turn. And Wolf refuses to let readers find the stable hold of realist fiction in his narratives, yet he does so without resorting to surrealist trickery -- for that alone already the pieces are of interest; it's not something one sees often.
       Admittedly, one has to be receptive to what Wolf is doing here; if not, there's no doubt that these pieces can quickly become enervating and tiresome. One has to approach them in the proper mood to get anything out of them; I know there are times when I couldn't put up with this sort of stuff. So if you don't take to it at first, put the book away and try again later; if and once you are open to what Wolf is doing, it's really quite remarkable.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 August 2013

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Two or Three Years Later: Reviews [Reviews with an asterisk (*) are of the earlier (2003) edition that only has 47 digressions]: Ror Wolf: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German author Ror Wolf was born in 1932.

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© 2013 the complete review

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