Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 540
Across is a first-person narrative with little plot action. It consists of three major sections and an epilogue. Andreas Loser is a teacher of ancient languages at a high school in a suburb outside Salzburg, Austria. He lives separated from his wife and two children. He considers himself to be an observer of, and not a participant in, life. One day, Loser deliberately knocks over a passerby while walking in Salzburg. He does not know why he does it, but only that he must act—that it is now or never. He is clearly undergoing some kind of inner crisis, and he believes that he needs time to assess himself and his existence. The day after this incident, he takes a leave of absence from his teaching post. Loser uses the free time to work on a treatise he is writing. His hobby is researching and excavating ancient doorsteps, or entryways (the German, Schwelle, also suggests a threshold or brink). During the rest of the first section of the novel, Loser remains an observer, describing his apartment and the suburb in which he lives. He longs to find those things that might still have meaning for him: landscapes and simple objects. He is very interested in the ancient Roman writer Vergil, especially his bucolic literature. Late at night, he hears a child wailing and reflects upon its distress.
In the second section, Loser becomes a participant in life, ironically through an act of willful destruction. He is on his way over the Monch mountain to attend his monthly game of tarok cards with his friends. He describes the mountain and its landscape in great detail. He catches sight of an old man spray-painting swastikas on the trees and is seized by a tremendous feeling of melancholy and despair. Loser grabs a rock and runs toward the man, hurling the stone with all of his might and mortally wounding him. Undetected, Loser pushes the dying man over the cliff and then scratches out the signs the man had painted. He believes that he has acted decisively for once in his life. Continuing to his friend’s house, he feels no regret or remorse. During the card game, he and his friends—a priest, a young politician, an artist, and a homeowner—discuss the meaning of the word “threshold.” After the game, he and the artist walk through the city.
In the third section, which begins the next day, Loser remains in bed, thinking about his act of the night before, the theme of death, and his terrible isolation. Several days later, he emerges from his apartment and walks around the suburb. Days pass. His behavior becomes seemingly erratic. He takes a bus to the airport near the site of one of the excavations on which he is working. At the airport, he meets a woman with whom he spends the night. The next day, he visits his mother in a retirement home. He then flies to Milan, Italy, and on to Mantua to visit a landscape described by Vergil. He flies from Mantua to Sardinia and, finally, returns to his school in Salzburg to begin teaching again. (Later, he visits his family.) The epilogue consists of a description of a canal.
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