Tuesday, September 01, 2009

What does a Podpeep Read -- c.anne.gardner

The Maimed
By Hermann Ungar

I read the Maimed two years ago, and it's one of those rare books that I return to over and over again. This is from my Amazon review:

Franz Polzer, a pitiable, wretched man, lives out his ordinary days in solitude and poverty ... the mundane tasks carving out his time and his life. Tortured by sick and demented hallucinations of his father and aunt, Polzer suffers an immense sense of self-loathing as well as a loathing of women and children. He also suffers endless nights in cold sweat, paralyzed by the death grip of imaginary thieves and murderers, only to suffer the hours of his days in ceaseless toil, a slave, mercilessly at the beck and call of his obsessive compulsive disorder - everything must be counted and counted again ... and again.

Yes, Herr Polzer is a sad soul, desperately trying to live his life the way he wishes. But an easy mark, even his paranoia and compulsive behaviour cannot save him from the evil of others, who wish nothing more than to take advantage of any situation that might come along. And where one feels empathy for Polzer, there is nothing to feel but revulsion for the other characters in the story ... even his crippled childhood friend whose mind has been devoured by leprosy invokes no sense of pity.

This is a masterful piece of work. As we read the confessions of Polzer's twisted mind, Unger leaves more than enough to the imagination, and yet, without telling every gory detail, he still manages to set your flesh crawling. Polzer's entire identity is in turmoil throughout most of the book: his abusive childhood, his own sexual ambiguity, and his religious prejudices and superstitions fill every terror filled thought in his mind. I couldn't put this book down. In twenty-four hours, I read it cover to cover, on the edge of my seat. And even after finishing, the story continued to claw at my mind.

And kudos to the translator for finding it appropriate to include the final chapter, which was omitted in the original version. It in now way ruined the intentional ambiguous ending that the author desired. It only made me wonder more.

This book was put out by a small press in Prague, and their focus is on translations, specifically of Czech writers. Being a Kafka fan, I was instantly drawn to Hermann Ungar's writing style, which leans more towards the ambiguous. I like to wonder. I like to guess my way through a story. I don't like to be bludgeoned with character motivations, and Ungar is so subtle in this work, it's terrifying. Even the moments of exposition are beautifully done. I noticed as I was preparing to post that the book is out of print. If you can find a copy, I highly recommend it for anyone who likes macabre psychological stories.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

1 comment:

Brent Robison said...

"I like to wonder. I like to guess my way through a story. I don't like to be bludgeoned with character motivations..."

Yes! Me too... as a reader. Not an easy balance to find as a
writer, though.

Thanks -- I'll look for this book.