Women in a River Landscape

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Boll’s characters are drawn chiefly from the ranks of the politicians who rule the FRG and those bankers and financiers who control the politicians and therefore the rest of the country as well. Subtitled “A Novel in Dialogues and Soliloquies,” WOMEN IN A RIVER LANDSCAPE takes the reader behind the scenes of power and public image into a world of greed and corruption against which the dissatisfactions and moral doubts of a handful of characters stand as the country’s best and perhaps last hope. The dramatic form puts the reader in the position of the women of the novel’s title who eavesdrop on the power plays of their predatory male counterparts. The world in which the women play no part other than that of “window dressing” is one in which both the Catholic Church and public service are facades, where corruption is assumed, complicity the rule, and innocence another name for self-deception, where everything is for the taking, and where the only unpardonable sin is “taking from us” rather than from others.

Most of the action takes place in the course of a single day, during which the reader overhears talk of a funeral, a suicide, a political assassination, and the death of a young woman following a botched abortion. These, however, are only the outward signs of the inner corruption of a country in which preoccupation with the present has completely supplanted memory of the past and hope for the future. What counts, the youngest of the characters says, is “having what other people have, and to get that you have to do things you mustn’t be caught doing.” The alternatives to her cynicism and selfishness appear rather limited: either “metaphysical rigor” (moral paralysis) or continued faith in one’s own willingness to make moral choices. The relative weakness of the novel’s concluding pages may be read as a sign of the novel’s overall strength and integrity, suggesting that what Boll, as he neared the end of his life, hoped would happen was not quite the same as what he believed would happen.