(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Written six years after Jenseits der Liebe (1976; Beyond All Love, 1982), this short novel returns to the main character of that earlier work, Franz Horn. Here and in the previous work, Martin Walser studies the psyche of a moderately successful contemporary businessman. Horn is no economic dynamo; in fact, he considers himself worthless when compared to his more successful rivals—and in this case, everyone is a rival. Horn bemoans the fact that the only two men who could be his friends are his boss, Arthur Thiele, and his rival, Dr. Horst Liszt.

On the Friday before the Whitsuntide holiday, the department heads of Chemnitz Dentures are called together for an announcement of the suicide of their main competitor, Benedikt Stierle. Since Franz Horn hoped to quit his job and apply for a position with Stierle, this event occasions his reflections on his life and work as set forth in a letter (with nineteen separate postscripts) to his colleague and rival, Dr. Liszt.

Expected at his mother’s home for her name-day celebration (his wife and daughters await his arrival), Horn is incapable of movement. He slumps at his desk and begins a letter of apology to Liszt, citing their most recent disagreement at a local inn while waiting for Arthur Thiele to pick them up in his sailboat. From Horn’s behavior and responses on that day, it has become evident to Liszt that Horn has never liked him; as they are leaving the restaurant, Horn...

(The entire section is 566 words.)