Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Seventh Trunk” is an antistory or nonstory. In this type of fiction, the plot of the work itself is less important than the author’s exploration of the creative process. “The Seventh Trunk” does not draw a clear boundary between where fiction ends and the author’s own life begins. The narrative voice that Böll assumes in the story is largely indistinguishable from his own. Like Böll, the narrator of “The Seventh Trunk” grew up in Cologne, became a writer, and was captured by the enemy during World War II. It is difficult to determine, therefore, how much of the story resulted from the author’s recollection and how much is his own invention. If it were presented as a nonfiction article, “The Seventh Trunk” would be almost indistinguishable from a rather routine reminiscence. Only the artfulness of the account itself, and the role of coincidence in the story, suggest that this is a work of fiction.

Böll’s structure in “The Seventh Trunk” is a free flow of ideas. His description of his attempts to uncover, and later to write, the second half of Jakob Maria Hermes’s short story leads him to summarize Knecht’s account of the writing process. Knecht’s image of the opening of nested trunks leads him, in turn, to recount his great-grandmother’s superstition. This, too, Böll regards as a suitable metaphor for the writing of fiction. Like any narrator of fiction, Böll has selected a few details, brought them together, and allowed them to take on their own life.