Opposite

Benjamin Lytal

‘Literature should be naked,’ Peter Stamm writes. Words should never obscure the story, ‘its warmth, its form, its vitality’. It’s form that critics in Germany and his native Switzerland are talking about when they compare Stamm to Raymond Carver. Take ‘The True Pure Land’, one of his more ‘naked’ stories. The narrator, a Swiss man working in New York for six months, lives in Spanish Harlem. He sits at his window, smoking, watching a woman opposite. His roommate, a man from Alabama, listens to country music, smokes pot and complains about his girlfriend, a leftist. The narrator goes to the beach to celebrate the Swiss national holiday. Later, a go-between arranges a date with the woman opposite, but it turns out to be the wrong woman. Nothing happens. The roommate’s girlfriend jokes about Switzerland, calling it the only ‘pure land’. The night before the narrator returns to Switzerland his roommate is stranded in another part of the city because of a snow storm and has to phone to say goodbye.

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