Following the appearance of two stories inThe New Yorker, German author, playwright, and journalist Maxim Biller makes his English-language debut with a collection of remarkable and beautifully wrought short stories,Love Today.These twenty-seven exquisite vignettes reveal the frustration, longing, and loneliness of human intimacy and love in the twenty-first century. A moment of dialogue between two people seated in an empty bar in "Baghdad at Seven-Thirty" evokes fragility, helplessness, and regret. The childhood friends who meet accidentally throughout the years in "Ziggy Stardust" are alternately drawn toward and repulsed from each other; and the fleeting text messages exchanged in "The Maserati Years" change everything between two lovers in an instant. Collectively, the result is romantic, voyeuristic, and deeply moving.Already a force in contemporary German literature, Maxim Biller has received praise from critics and readers alike throughout Europe for his perceptive, enchanting prose and the hauntingly familiar emotions his stories can provoke.Love Todayintroduces a new and gifted writing talent, and an accomplished international literary voice.
In the 27 brief stories in German author Biller's collection (his first to be published in the States, and magnificently translated by Bell), characters fall in love, have affairs, spy on their neighbors, break up and do everything in between, all of which is described with a mix of chic simplicity and Hemingwayesque poignancy. In "The Mahogany Elephant," a seemingly banal exchange between two reunited lovers leads to a crystallization of their relationship. In "Baghdad at Seven-Thirty," two people making small talk at a bar come to reveal a complicated bond. In "Melody," a troubled couple's expansive romantic lives are distilled into just over two pages. Some stories disappoint, such as "In Bed with Sheikh Yassin," about a justifiably reluctant bride who fantasizes about another man on her wedding day. Biller's chief concerns--fidelity and longing--are examined from every conceivable angle, and the stories, short as they are, carry an unexpectedly powerful emotional wallop. (June) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
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Simon & Schuster
June 09, 2008
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Excerpt from Love Today by Maxim Biller
The Mahogany Elephant
He waited for her for three months. He sorted out his photos, rearranged his books, moved some of the furniture around, and then he went on waiting. After that he read all the letters he had ever received and threw most of them away, and he bought a large map of India and hung it above his bed. Or rather he didn't buy a map of India, but that was what he really wanted to do while he was waiting. He waited and waited, and began to write a story about waiting for her, but he didn't know how it would end, so he dropped it. Finally he did nothing at all; he didn't even wait anymore. He was sleeping less and less, he ate nothing but bread and tomatoes and yellow supermarket cheese, and then at last she came back, they sat together on his sofa, and she said, "It's been a long time."
"Yes," he said, although he had firmly made up his mind to say as little as possible, "it's been a very long time."
She had lost weight on her travels, and he didn't think she looked better than before. She was tired, but then, she was always tired; she'd gone away to recover from feeling tired all the time, and now that she was back she was still tired. And she'd grown older. Older or more serious or harder, he wasn't sure which. There was a gray tinge to her suntanned skin, the kind you usually see only on older women, her smile was much too grave and thoughtful, and her cheekbones were even more prominent than before.
She rose to her feet and went out. When she came back she had a bright-colored bag in her hand.
"This is for you," she said.
"Thank you, my love," he said. He opened the bag. There was a small, fat, black mahogany elephant in it.
"Would you like a drink?" he asked.
"I bought wine for you."
"No, water," she said.
He slowly stood up and brushed his leg against hers. Apart from the fleeting kiss when she arrived it was their first physical contact in three months.
"Really just water?" he called from the kitchen, but she didn't reply. "Chilled or room temperature?" he asked, and she called quietly back, "Room temperature."
He took a new crate of water out of the closet, pushed it straight back in again with his foot, and opened the bottle of wine that had been standing on the kitchen table for the last six weeks. He picked up the glasses and the bottle, and before going back to the living room he took the elephant out of his trouser pocket and threw it in the garbage.
"Jordi," she said, "I didn't want wine."
"No," he agreed, "it's still too early for wine."
"I didn't drink at all while I was there," she said.
"That's a pity," he said.
"No, I don't think so."
"I think it is."
He poured wine first for himself, then for her, and they clinked glasses. She didn't look in his eyes, and she drank only a tiny sip before going into the kitchen to fetch a bottle of water. She sat down on the sofa again, as far from him as she had been just before, and began telling him about her travels -- but he was barely listening. While she was away he had kept trying to imagine where she was at any given time, and what it was like there, but now he couldn't care less about India, he just wanted to know what her decision was. Of course, he knew already, but he wanted to hear it from her own mouth. He wanted her to suffer a little, he wanted her to have to say it and feel unhappy about hurting him. No, she would say, we're not going to get married, Jordi, I know that's not what I want now, so we'll never see each other again, the way we agreed.
"Did you miss me?" he said.
"No, Jordi," she said, "I didn't."
"Of course not," he said, and nodded.
"Are you angry?"
"Are you sure you're not angry?"
He looked out the window. When she had left, you could still see right over the square to the Church of Zion. Now the trees were in leaf, and all you saw from the window were those wonderful large green leaves. The leaves swayed back and forth in the wind, reminding Jordi of seaweed drifting in the ocean.
Perhaps it was because they hadn't seen each other for so long. They hadn't seen each other for almost as long as they'd known each other! He laid his arm on the back of the sofa behind her and left it there for a few minutes, but then he took it away again. The arm didn't feel quite sure of itself.
"What about you?" she asked.
"What have you been doing?"
"Why didn't you call?" he said. "Not once in three months!"
"But you know," she said, taking alarm. "That was our agreement, wasn't it?"
She was right. She'd even said, "Suppose I stay there for good?" And he had said that would be okay, she was a free agent, and if they never said another word to each other again that would be okay too. But he had said so only out of calculation, because he knew that she was an Aries -- and just try keeping a ram captive.