Category: Fiction

Silke Scheuermann
Reiche Mädchen
[Rich girls]

Stories

Review

If these girls are rich, one would rather be poor, and definitely not a girl (anymore) – most of the female characters in Rich girls, poet Silke Scheuermann’s short story debut, seem to be anything but happy. The title of the collection of seven stories is meant ironically; these glimpses into the lives of young women – hardly girls anymore after all – reveal anything but material or spiritual wealth.

On the contrary: these young women lead a life free of financial cares, belong to the currently popular “thirty-something” generation and come from a more or less academic background. They have names like Franziska, Lizzy and Lisa and work at universities or as translators and booksellers. Apart from that, however, their lives are not particularly fulfilled; they all sense an existential void – in themselves, in their relationships, in their existence –which they attempt to fill in different ways. All seven stories tell of this search for fulfillment, for a wealth of sensation or experience.

There is Franziska, for example, who has every reason to be happy in her long-time relationship with the considerate, understanding, dependable Clemens. But it is exactly these qualities which make her unhappy – the passion is lacking, the unknown, unpredictable. She seeks these things in vain (as the reader and even she herself suspects from the outset) in an affair with an older, married university professor. At the very least, he certainly seems to be unpredictable: for no apparent reason he often lets days go by without giving a sign of life, while the love-crazed Franziska talks to him by the minute, transforming her refrigerator into a trove of gourmet delicacies and her apartment into a perfect love nest, just to provide the right setting for the longed-for declaration of love which never comes.

The other stories likewise depict facets of love, life together or alone, abandoning or being abandoned, the search for one’s own identity or a shared future, for a fulfilled life or at least the illusion of one.

One of these stories – all of them told with consummate ease and (worldly) wisdom – deserves special mention, as an exception in every respect. Instead of focusing on young people somewhere between puberty and marriage, the story “The Vicinity of Lightning” tells of an old married couple; instead of the longing for love, its fulfillment – in the physical sense as well – is described; one witnesses not doubt and failure, but the accomplishment of a life successfully shared. All this is told poignantly but with a remarkable lack of pathos, more intimated than described in detail.

It is remarkable how this young writer – herself in her early thirties – manages every time to condense these different life phases to a crucial moment, a significant scene. Thus she is able to convey a nuanced, touching picture of the inner lives of her very different characters without resorting to pat psychology, showing the psychological processes of her anti-heroines without showing them up.

Be it with first-person introspection, in the first and the last story, or the descriptions of a third-person narrator in the others, Silke Scheuermann consistently succeeds in involving the reader in her characters’ process of (self-)discovery and, frequently, disillusionment. Though her narrative voice never loses its light touch, generally maintaining an agreeably ironic, observant distance, her observations are always colored by unobtrusive empathy and accompanied by a knowing smile – which imperceptibly shifts to the reader’s face in the course of the book.
Anne-Bitt Gerecke

By Anne-Bitt Gerecke, 08.11.2005

Translated by Isabel Fargo Cole