You probably haven’t heard of Marianne Fritz, but she was one of Austria’s most adventurous authors. Thanks to Dorothy, a publishing project, her first novel became available in English translation this winter.
The Weight of Things is a war story by way of horror novel, or more precisely, a novel about World War II that is set almost completely after the fact. It’s soaked in nightmarish imagery, the darkest of humor, and foreboding symbolism. At the same time, many of the grimmest acts unfolding in its pages are skimmed lightly; we understand what happens without the gruesome play-by-play we may be accustomed to from more detail-oriented fiction. This skirting, in a way, makes these passages more shocking. The saving of a life, the taking of a life, domestic, minutiae, and a parent-teacher meeting each merit about the same number of paragraphs.
Fritz’s nonlinear plot and insistence that we read between the lines disorients, but heavy repetition grounds the novel and highlights the creeping doom that, in the world of this novel, nobody can avoid. Whether it is a battlefield, the landscape of a terrible dream, an insane asylum, or merely a kitchen table, there is nowhere Fritz does not infuse with the dreaded titular weight. They are all connected; they are all alike. Her style is sparse, but each word packs more meaning for it.
If you want to know why you haven’t heard of Fritz, here may be the reason: when The Weight of Things was first published in the late 70’s, few wanted to read a story set mainly in the mid 60’s that detailed the failure to return to normal domesticity, and certainly not one by a woman who shook off conventional narrative techniques and exchanged them for cruel, spare prose. Even today, we rely on the idea that one simply returns home from a war to a relatively unchanged home life. But what if it is literally a different man who returns? And to a woman who isn’t who he thinks? With the world still shaking beneath the placid face of a “new normal?” The urge to cover the wounds of the past–both national and personal ones–can only conceal so much, and what Fritz sought to portray in this novel is the rotting flesh beneath the bandage of sunnier narratives. The result is timeless, disturbing, and sadly overlooked.
The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz (Dorothy, a publishing project | 9780989760775 | October 2015)