Christine, a young German woman, is at a junction in her life. Although engaged to a theology student, she travels with her lover, Herbert, and Bert, his son, to Paris for a holiday. She considers the trip a test of how well she and Bert can get along. Most of the novella, which takes place after World War II, occurs not in Paris, but on the train back to Germany. Most of “what happens” is internal, rather than external. Although the narration leads to Christine’s marital decision, which she does not make, The Pegnitz Junction also concerns the creative process, which is capable of inventing a reality more “real” and interesting than reality. As the three travel on the train, Christine’s imagined scenarios regarding other passengers and people she sees make her own story pale in comparison. Gallant uses italics, for the most part, to distinguish Christine’s scripts from her own story.
Christine prefers Herbert to the theology student because she believes Herbert does not create “barriers”—the second thoughts, self-analysis, and talk that paradoxically prevent true communication. Before the end of the story, however, Herbert veers off into analysis, the language people use to control others. Small gestures and details add up; together they imply the dead end that Christine will eventually reach. When the drunken porter verbally abuses them in Paris, Herbert only contemplates action. On the train, he begs her to marry him and...
(The entire section is 448 words.)