Cross­ing the Hudson

Peter Stephan Jungk; David Dol­len­may­er, trans.
  • Review
By – December 22, 2011

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.

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