Most of the tales display a dream-like quality, featuring the odd illogical logic that characterizes sleeping thought processes. People and objects make strange journeys, morphing impossibly before our eyes from one form to another, defying common sense and sometimes the laws of physics.
Conversation between two people features rarely in these tales, but there is a strong sense of communication between each story’s lead character and the world around him or her, whether a rural setting on an urban built environment. The natural world, vividly depicted, is often twisted to seem unnatural — lakes made of glass, trees made of metal. The characters constantly pitch themselves against natural forces such as tides and currents, or use them to their advantage, hurling lightning bolts and thunder like mythical gods. The reader, along with each protagonist, increasingly questions just what is real and what is imagined, and the survival of every adventure feels like a victory.
Common motifs link many stories. Winding, powerful endless bodies of water lure characters, siren-like, to dive in search of meaning, or to toss in coins as hoping to appease some primeval god or spirit. Clowns and circuses pop up, often mirage-like, at one point encouraging the hero to turn performer and discover previously unknown acrobatic skills.
Throughout, Baltensperger juggles playfully with the readers’ expectations , not only with his inventive and exciting use of language, but also with key elements in each story. His clowns, for example, tend to be intimidating rather than funny, whereas a dead squirrel, accidentally run over by the hero’s car, triggers a very funny riff that ends up in the bra section of a department store.
Wherever their adventures take them, his characters constantly seek physical anchors to make sense and bring security in their dreamlike world — mirrors, kites, lakes — but never quite manage it. Their ever-pressing quest for purpose and endorsement is always thwarted. This reader got carried along by their sense of urgency, half hoping that in the next tale the hero or heroine might finally crack the meaning of life. I loved Baltensperger’s sense of playfulness that prevents each mission’s failure from becoming depressing or hopeless.
Although drawn on from one tale to the next, I felt that I needed to read this book very slowly or risk being overwhelmed and exhausted by its intensity. Don’t be fooled into thinking that because it’s flash fiction, you’ll read it in a flash. Quite often I found myself reading a piece several times to try to extract every last drop of meaning, and I think it’s a book that you could reread many times and still find something new.
In the book’s Amazon blurb, it’s made clear that this book allies with the ground-breaking work of important philosophers and psychologists such as Jung and Freud. I know very little about either. Although a deeper understanding of existentialism and individuation might change my reading of the book, my ignorance certainly did not stop me from enjoying the stories in my own way. I hope that potential readers aren’t deterred from reading this book by not knowing more about these matters.
I also hope they’re not deterred by the retail price (£8 in the UK, where I live, and less than £1 cheaper than the paperback), which seems steep to me for a collection of stories by an author who is not a bestseller or high profile.
Both of these factors account for why there appear to be fewer reviews and readers for this book than it deserves. I hope my own review will encourage anyone hesitating to take the plunge — as so many of Baltensperger’s characters do, literally, in this book!