So there's a blockheaded article in today’s NYTimes on the new English translation of Beim Hauten der Zwiebel by Günter Grass. Aside from missing the point of Grass’s constant equivocations, the article notes:
The vivid precision of the air raid scene, which served as raw material for “The Tin Drum,” contrasts markedly with the tentative, gauzy rendering of critical life events. Mr. Grass despised his father, for example, but never explains why.
I would like to refer this reviewer to the most impressive paragraph from the recently published New Yorker excerpt, as follows:
Time passed. Things at home ran their wartime course. I managed to keep the animosity that I felt toward my father within bounds for the length of my weekend leaves. I presumably enjoyed disdaining him: first, because he existed; next, because he would stand or sit in the living room in a suit and tie and felt slippers; next, because he was forever mixing pastry dough in the same stoneware bowl while wearing the same apron; next, because he was always the one who carefully tore the newspapers into toilet paper; and, finally, because, having been declared “exempt from military service,” he would never go to the front and therefore never get out of my hair. But my father did give me a Kienzle wristwatch for my birthday.
It isn’t just that this evocation is amazingly compressed and rings absolutely true. It’s that, as the review reminds us, literary talk in America just now isn’t receptive to any sort of psychological realism that doesn’t map directly onto one of our reigning pop-psychology myths; so apart from the inherent difficulty of pulling off a miniature masterstroke like Grass’s, the apprentice American writer won’t even feel licensed to attempt it. Instead she feels obliged to pencil in a bunch of tedious backstory with all the appropriate melodramatic cruxesbecause everyone knows that’s how you make your characters come alive.
i totally agree; though i have never been a young man, i imagine it would be something like that.