In Woody Allen’s short film Oedipus Wrecks, the protagonist’s Jewish mother appears as a giant presence in the sky, mortifying him by talking about intimate details of his life with the strangers on earth below. Peter Stephan Jungk’s new novel also centers on a Jewish man harangued by his mother. But here, it’s the father who is a giant fantastical presence, a naked corpse more than a mile – long reposing in the waters of the Hudson River.
Gustav, as this protagonist is called, encounters the “colossal fatherbody” while he and his mother are stuck in a traffic jam on the Tappan Zee Bridge north of Manhattan. It triggers flashbacks suggesting that Gustav has chosen the wrong career and married the wrong woman, and that he has never escaped the domination of his celebrated, successful father or his overbearing and self-absorbed mother. This fable hinges on what Gustav decides about his life at this liminal point in space and time.
This psychologically resonant story surveys well-trod territory from a novel angle, brimming with revealing details about its characters both major and minor. And it reminds us that breaking free of parental influence is no guarantee of either wisdom or happiness.
The translation from the German flawlessly brings the dialogue and narrative into an utterly natural contemporary American idiom.