Melville House’s three just-published Heinrich Boll books have been reviewed by Sam Sacks (of Open Letters Monthly) in the Wall Street Journal. Here’s a bit on The Clown, which I wrote an afterword to:
Defiance takes the form of willful failure in the tragicomic novel “The Clown” (1963). The titular clown, Hans Schnier, injured in a performance, drags himself back to his apartment, where he spends the afternoon calling his family and acquaintances, alternately hectoring them or pleading for money. “Financially embarrassed,” in his bourgeois father’s words, and broken-hearted at the grizzled age of 26, Hans rails against the hypocrisy of respectable, “realist” society. The woman he loves has left him because he won’t accept Catholicism—he distrusts the promise of absolution. Nor will he let his father put him through school to become a financially viable clown. In the institutions of capitalism and religion he sees only “modern forms of pantomime.”
“The Clown” is a concept book, but in it the abstractions of existentialism are manifested in vivid flesh-and-blood characters—even if Hans is a bit unusual. He has the ability to smell people over the phone, bringing to life the spectrum of the robust middle class, from the cigarette and grease odors of well-fed hausfraus to the beery breath of Hans’s grubbing talent agent.