For those new to Stamm, they will find in his stylistic approach an immediate and uncanny resemblance to Hemingway: a calm, clean prose bereft of any adornment whatsoever, something Hofmann has faithfully tended to with each passing translation. Yet an essential difference between these two careful storytellers is a strange premonition of various disturbances to follow in Stamm’s narratives of contemporary middle-class Europeans, many of which are frighteningly easy to slide into while reading without being aware of it. A psychological literature of ordinary lives gone awry, presenting itself as anything but at first glance ... Stamm’s latest novel The Sweet Indifference of the World, however, may mark a slight departure for him—with emphasis on slight. Proving steadfast in tone and depiction of his characters, as well as in the constant limitations he places around them, Stamm refuses to employ, for instance, the earth-shattering plot development or profound epiphany for his protagonists, instead relying on the shaky foundations of human relationships to play themselves out, often to deceptively unremarkable ends ... a hidden anxiety settles on everything in Indifference like a huge morning fog drivers can’t help but speed headlong into while on the interstate and are left to wonder midway through if they will ever see the other side of it ... The fascinating overall effect of Indifference makes it a worthy inclusion among Stamm’s other compelling novels, and a captivating suggestion of what may yet come should this work represent a slim veering for him.
For Stamm, like Stendhal before him, erotic love is not something given to or withheld from you so much as an act of the imagination, and the kind of fictionalizing it requires is very much like writing a story. Rather than demand love and recognition, Stamm’s characters are more generous, more accepting, more creative ... The book is rife with juxtapositions between art, imagination, and memory ... Whatever Stamm is trying to do, his questions about the relationship between art and life are happily left unresolved. I don’t think the novel contributes much as metafiction. But its meditations on how erotic love may work are fascinating. And of course Stamm’s prose, as always, is lean, deliberate, and gorgeous.
Stamm doesn’t provide neat, topped-and-tailed answers to thorny questions, nor does he rationalize his characters’ decisions ... while Stamm resists offering clear-cut solutions, his stripped-down, pared-back prose still works wonders, exploring complex issues and probing singular minds in a thoroughly compelling way.
Stamm isn’t predictable, and he isn’t ordinary, and over the course of this especially slim novel, he accomplishes something remarkable by giving the reader a story that’s simultaneously disorienting and comforting ... At the outset, Sweet Indifference can be puzzling and slippery, but along the way the same distinctive style that distorts begins to coalesce into something more enlightening. Instead of dissonance, Stamm manages to produce an unusual harmony. It often comes across as a meditation structured around one man’s effort to understand, mold, restructure, and interpret himself through memories ... If Stamm is speaking to some distressing urge to reconcile one’s life with a wishful memory of it, then perhaps all it takes is some perspective.
The masterful craftsmanship of both author and translator animates a universe that trembles on the limit of realism. An elevation from the typical love story, the novel invites meditation on topics like the nature of narrative, the unreliability of perception, the standards by which we judge the value of a human life, and even the act of translation ... The novel’s brilliant twist on the doppelgänger trope begs a general interrogation of the conceptualized 'original,' which can be extended to the act of translation ... This novel draws its energy from the powerful twin forces of love and shame ... And that, one could argue, makes a living story.
In The the ageing narrator writes himself...out of reality ... The moves, from here, are familiar and formulaic. First comes the fraying of the boundary between truth and fiction ... Next comes the obligatory hint that the book we are reading may be the very book the narrator wrote ... But he is confirmed by his unreality: if he is a fiction, then his book exists after all ... This is a neat and unsatisfying trick. Stamm’s characters, like his narrators, can only exist because they do not exist.