Thursday, January 2, 2014

THE APARTMENT by Greg Baxter

"His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the Universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."
James Joyce

A Novel
Published by Twelve, on December 3, 2013
Hardback, 208 pages
4.5 out of 5 stars

Refreshing and mesmerizing like the first winter snow... Greg Baxter dared to be different and the ambition paid off. 

The world is nothing but a grain of sand in the universe, so wherever we go , even when we think we're escaping, we end up running into ourselves...I have been in and out of hotels, apartments, countries, continents, more times than I care to count.  No matter how foreign and exotic the people and the costumes, the more I traveled  around the world, the more I found myself wandering in the familiar regions of my identity, as an individual, an enclave, a cultural stereotype. In labor during a highway ride in Southern China, walking the cobblestone streets of a German city in search of a place to eat, strolling around white picket fenced suburbs on the East Coast or taking the train in Tokyo with the unshakable fear of missing my stop and being lost in a river of humanity that doesn't speak my language, I was constantly reminded of my 'outsiderness'. I am Italian: the way I dress, the way I talk, the way I eat will give me away, wherever I go. I don't want to lose myself and I won't. I look at the world through different eyes each time, but I will always come home to my personal and true North. 

The protagonist of The Apartment, a forty-one year old man with no name and no aim in life other than  becoming invisible, moves from his 'desert' American hometown  to an old European city, in the vain illusion of anonymizing himself and leave the dehumanizing experience of war behind.  Serving in Iraq as a reservist first, and an intelligence contractor afterwards, can fill quite an emotional baggage, and one that follows the unnamed hero of this story like an extension of his body.  

"Here in the city, intense joy and intense sorrow are extinct. The place is too old for that kind of naiveté". Blanketed under a coat of dazzling snow, sounds are muted, thoughts are temporarily numbed, time loses shape and is deceivingly suspended. Visions of the cold, still city at night, the cheerfulness and warmth of the Christmas markets are intensely beautiful, but sharply at odds with the mournful tone of his stream of consciousness. Through the unfiltered and relentless first person narration of the main character (no chapter or paragraph breaks), we are made privy to every random thought, emotion, memory conjured by his disconnected mind during a day spent house hunting. With an abundance of sensory information and a prose that is at the same time scant and appealing, basic background details are swallowed in the depths and folds of the story. The protagonist somehow succeeds in making himself invisible: his provenance, his identity, the name of the European city he elects as a place to entomb the memories of violence he witnessed on the war front, remain unknown throughout the entire novel, and he's probably blind to the fact that his politeness, although detouched, alleviates the loneliness and alienation of Saskia, the bookish and sleep-deprived young chaperone who will unconditionally and gratuitously help him through his search for an apartment.

The open end of this original and intimate tale won't provide the readers with a sense of closure, but the story finds its finality and accomplishment in the message of hope and salvation ironically delivered by the same lost, broken, and hopeless protagonist: "I imagine that love is everywhere here...I imagine that love is some people's whole reason for wanting to live."

About the author
Greg Baxter was born and raised in Texas. During the past twenty years he has lived variously in Ireland, England, Austria, Chicago, Louisiana, and Germany. In 2010 he published his first book, the critically acclaimed A Preparation For Death. He now lives in Berlin, where he writes and translates.


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