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Clemens J. Setz

In his new book, Clemens J. Setz has lined up 20 stories, between 33 pages and twelve lines long. The themes could not be more different. But the stories have one thing in common: they are intense.

By Swantje Schütz

Setz: Der Trost runder Dinge © Suhrkamp Austrian author Clemens J. Setz’s stories in Der Trost runder Dinge (i.e. the comfort of round things) are hard to believe. But that doesn't mean they are implausible. After all, there is a lot of madness in this world. He might well exist – the father who is afflicted with anxiety attacks and who wishes that his son also had his illness, so that he, the father, could finally understand him. The father who dares not touch his wristwatch: “It was cold, unbearably smooth and full of germs. One could just as well tie the handles of a tram around one's neck!” At any rate, these apparently serious stories are not without a certain sense of humour, as this passage also shows, where the father in question imagines his son's future in the year 2061: “Got up every day, worked on something whose point no one understood anymore. He was paid, like all humans in the year 2061, in anti-cancer nanobots that went directly into the bloodstream.”

So what’s normal?

Setz has already been nominated several times for the German Book Prize. His stories start out “normal”, narrative, descriptive. But then they take on a twist where one can lose one's way as a reader.

This happens for instance in the first story, entitled “Südliches Lazarettfeld” (i.e. southern military field hospital). What a way to start off a book! Setz challenges the reader, lures him out of his comfort zone. An Austrian author makes his way to Canada to the Austrian Culture Forum. The plane does not take off, it turns back. To his surprise, however, his apartment is crammed full of people dressed in dilapidated clothes, and it stinks dreadfully. His wife Marianne is looking after these men, which reminds the observer of a hospital. And although Marianne must have seen him, she walks past him and simply mumbles “nonsense”. End of story, the reader is perplexed. Were they homeless? Was it all just a dream? But you can't ask yourself that in Setz's stories. It is the way it is, always a bit absurd.

Master of discomfort

Practically every story leaves a question mark, triggers anxiety. Setz's imagination is boundless, the language in part matter-of-fact and precisely descriptive. Many of his resulting images are entirely plausible: “In the driveway, a lost wool glove lay in the posture of a starfish washed ashore.” One thinks “Yes, exactly!” and wonders at the same time how the author comes up with the absurd musings and reflections for his stories. Either Setz's ideas make one smile or shake one's head – with the simultaneous desire to put the book away, because sometimes one can no longer bear the author's grotesque visions. He reveals himself in almost every story as a master of discomfort. But this in turn can also be appealing.
One of his wonderful ideas appears right away in the first story – wonderful above all because it is described so earnestly: The figures of a weather house clearly have a second home. As soon as they have gone back into their little house, they begin their second life in an apartment far away. A lovely idea.

Cherry Picker Setz, Clemens J.: Der Trost runder Dinge. Erzählungen
Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2019. 320 S.
ISBN: 978-3-518-42852-8

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