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Heinz Strunk
Tales from the Lower Depths

Heinz Strunk likes to lead his readers into the lower depths of society. In his new volume of short stories he directs his gaze to where it hurts, where the comic and the tragic meet.

By Holger Moos

Das Teemänchen © Rowohlt With these stories, Strunk picks up where he left off with his successful novel Der goldene Handschuh (i.e. the golden glove). He is a seismograph of social conditions and delivers brutally honest descriptions of human realities. Euphemisms are not Strunk's cup of tea.

The slim volume is titled Das Teemännchen (i.e. the little tea man) and presents the reader with an array of human self-combustions: for instance, a portrait of a boy addicted to masturbation or the autopsy of a couple stuck with each other, he the “prototype of the un-teachable, humourless, leftist philistine”, she long since resigned to the fact that they will stay together. It is hardly imaginable that either of them could find new life-stage partners: “Too old, too empty, too boring, too fat, too thin, too poor, too uninteresting, too anything and everything.” The high and low points are not reached at Tempo 100 (i.e. 100 km/h) - the title of this story - but at 60 km/h on the motorway.

Parade of those left behind

The parade of those society has left behind continues with a sketch of the life of a faded red-light district beauty who ends up literally at the bottom of the Borstelgrilleck snack bar, in the cellar. In Andersrum (i.e. the other way round), a man embarks on a process of physical change. He ends up with his “ass in front and dick in back”. On the beach for the handicapped on the island of Usedom, disabled seniors lie about “like victims of a gas attack”. Other texts are only one or two pages long. They are impressions, for instance of hookers with the smell of coffee on their breath, or of a bad dream, at the end of which the dreamer draws the following conclusion: “Born with nothing and you leave with nothing, that's for sure. But like this?”

“Equanimity in the face of life’s senselessness”

People in their corporeality is another one of Strunk's major themes. Decay is all-pervasive. Not only the psyche, the body too is mercilessly delivered up to Strunk's gaze. An aged sweetheart from a character's youth is described as follows: “Her back felt knotty between the shoulder blades, but the skin was an especial turn-off, colourless like snail flesh, floury and mushy, like melted candle wax. It felt to him as though it were sitting on her bones like chewing gum, easily pulled off.”

Strunk gazes remorselessly into the human abyss, behind the veils and facades of existence, always with a certain “equanimity towards the senselessness of life”, as one story puts it. It’s not exactly uplifting reading matter, for this, people are too exposed in all their limitations and existential shabbiness. Strunk does not, however, present his figures in an exhibitionistic fashion, but merely directs his gaze precisely to where we usually look away, and describes what he sees – soberly, and savagely laconic.
Strunk, Heinz: Das Teemännchen
Cherry Picker Reinbek: Rowohlt, 2018. 208 S.
ISBN: 978-3-498-06449-5