Desire, above all else

KRAUSSER - Eros

[Is someone making a list of cover art that do great disservice to the book’s content? If so, could you please add this horrendous cover for Eros? We’ve got rudimentary vector images of a man standing on the neck of a very disinterested woman, while ‘splosionz happen beyond them and a fleet of fighter jets plop on the foreground. Magic, guys!]

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#33 of 2013 • Eros by Helmut Krausser;
– Translated from the German by Mike Mitchell.

As short a note as I can make this; it’s been a while since I read Eros, and my opinion of it hasn’t gotten better over time. I hasten to add that it’s not terrible—I am, at the very least, glad (and a little proud) that I read this, as it demanded more from me than the books I’ve tended to gravitate toward lately. But whatever promise it offered fizzled. It was not bad, it wasn’t mediocre—but it could have been really good. For me.

Krausser’s Eros is supposed to be an examination of desire and obsession. We have a dying recluse eager to share his tale to the world—but through the novelist-for-hire’s filter—and that tale centers around the torch he’s carried for decades for a precocious-as-a-child, politically-thrown-about-as-a-woman Sofie. And I was willingly seduced into Alexander’s story: He was too romantic a figure to resist, the hermit with much wealth and power at his disposal, which all this time he’d siphoned into caring for Sofie. You’re intrigued: What’s his deal? Why Sofie? What kind of love is this, one so constant? And, most importantly, does he get the girl?

As children in the Second World War, they’re thrown with each other—the air raids go off, and the townspeople hustle into the bunkers, and Alex and Sofie climb into a bed and sleep away the bombs. And Alex, young Alex, falls in love—and oh, so intensely: “Sometimes, when I was sleeping next to her, I stole a strand from her loose hair and played with it, so gently that she didn’t notice. I put it in my mouth and chewed on it, imagining it was her lips.” And then, and then: “At some point during the summer of 1944 she started wearing two plaits instead of one, and sometimes wore her hair loose. It was . . . indescribable. That hair, a dark firefall, a molten mass, I would have given everything—everything!—to run my fingers through it, to have a taste of the girl, nothing else was important, you could have shown me thousands of similar creatures or even brought them to me, she was the one I wanted, no one else, only her, and wholly, entirely, with everything.” And Alex never tires, he keeps on loving her.

I hummed love songs, silent love songs the words of which I’ve forgotten, sang to myself for nights on end, never tiring of praising my love in song, it was just as it ought to be and I dreamed the whole of Germany had exploded and just we two were lying, buried alive, somewhere in the last warmth of ashes, the air was used up and I gave her my last breath in one long kiss—that kind of stuff, I take nothing of it back, it was right and it was marvelous.

However, the rest of the story falters for me after this shared childhood (under extraordinary, rather fraught circumstances)—all that beautifully worded genesis of love. Alex and Sofie are separated—Sofie insists later on that what crush he had was never reciprocated—and yet Alex persists. His own story—of how he came to survive the war, of how he built himself back up and amassed his wealth and power—was told only if it was relevant for his search for and his care for Sofie. Though I still liked that detail—the story, after all, was his desire for Sofie, everything else was superfluous—ultimately, the story failed to convince. I could not believe that Alex kept his ardor for Sofie alive, I could not care for people whose narratives eventually failed their initial potential. And then: The injection of politics. I, too, was never convinced of Sofie’s involvement in anything—I don’t think much of her, obviously, and because of this, I can’t think much of Alex either. The novel descends into political commentary, Sofie painted as a forever-child dipping her toes into a milieu she can never understand, and is thus always a victim of—and we have Alex traipsing in the background like a silent fairy godmother, making it all work for her.

Krausser, it seemed, had no idea what to do with this desire he’d skillfully assembled in its first, too-swiftly-passing pages. (To argue that obsession is an inherently empty venture, in light of the noncommittal-ness of majority of the book, would simply be making excuses for it.) Basically, lazily: This is not the desire I signed up for.

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