Peirene Press burst onto the literary scene last year with the publication of Veronique Olmi’s Beside the Sea followed by Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal and Portrait of a Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius. Billed as modern European literature which you can read in a two hour sitting, these books pack a punch more powerful than their slight appearance may give. The first three books made up their year of the woman. 2011 is their year of the man. I still have their 4th and 5th publications, Next World Novella by Matthias Politycki and Tomorrow Pamplona by Jan van Mersbergen, to read but I’m looking foward to them knowing that there will be an ambitious treat in store. But what I became really excited about was their 6th title, Maybe This Time by Alois Hotschnig, only because it is a book of SHORT STORIES. As some of you may know, I ADORE short stories. There’s something about their discreteness and brevity that adds an extra oomph to the reading experience. You can’t quite settle into the story comfortably because it could end at any time. I like that unsettling feeling which leaves me all jumpy and gives me palpitations.

Of the nine stories, the one that had the most impact was the first one which sets the tone for the rest of the collection. In The Same Silence, The Same Noise, the narrator (somehow I think of of him as a man) watches his neighbours, a couple who spend their days sunbathing on their deck, and becomes progressively more paranoid as his obsession intensifies while they coolly ignore him. It’s a masterful piece about a mundane pastime that shows how easily one can get sucked into something vicarious even if nothing is actually happening. There is something lush and vibrant about Hotschnig’s descriptions and I could almost feel the lazy sunshine caressing the skin and the dripping water as the narrator jumps into the lake. The slow build up of paranoia and tension is superb.

The second tale, Two Ways of Leaving, is completely different and left me quite confused and puzzled in a pleasant way. I think it’s about a stalker but I’m not sure. Maybe it’s about closure. You’ll have to read it yourself and make up your own mind.

Then A Door Opens and Swings Shut is probably the creepiest of the stories and is reminscent of Roald Dahl’s more macabre tales. There are dolls and a strange old woman and the licking of faces. Creepy, right?

Maybe This Time, Maybe Now is bathed in pathos, the contrast between the noisy family gatherings and the perpetual longing and waiting for a guest who never appears providing a stark reminder of possible loss and denial. In some ways this story seemed the most quotidien, and maybe because of this, is a bit of a slow-burner and remained with me the longest.

And the final story, You Don’t Know Them, They’re Strangers, reminded me of the film Dark City where every night the people in charge came to re-arrange the sleeping citizen’s lives, but not quite.

There’s something starkly beautiful about Hotschnig’s tales and Tess Lewis’ translation is seamless. There is a clean and clear sense of alienation which imbues the lives of the characters who find themselves in slightly opaque situations. Meike Ziervogel of Peirene Press describes these stories as oblique and Kafkaesque and I completely agree with her. It’s lovely and ever so slightly creepy. As with all short story collections, there will be a couple of stories that may not make the favourite mark, but Maybe This Time is a pretty strong collection.

Thank you to Peirene Press for kindly sending me a copy of Maybe This Time to review. And I hope there will be more short story collections in future!

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