Stamm, whose precise, dry prose builds suspense in its very insistence on the quotidian, creates narratives simultaneously ordinary and strange, even uncanny. Atmospherically, these stories recall Arthur Schnitzler, or even Edgar Allan Poe: eventfulness is promised, then elided; death or oblivion hovers at the edges of an ordinary afternoon ... Repeatedly, in Stamm’s ghost-filled collection—beautifully translated, as are all his books, by the remarkable Michael Hofmann—the story proves to be an antistory, but no less a story for that[.]
Yes, his prose has the precision of his country’s famous watches. Yes, his characters often do things—cheating, leaving, hurting, stealing—that would make the Roys of HBO’s Succession look like kids on a playground. But you never stop and think, 'This is preposterous, this could never happen, no one acts like that.' If this is cold, you feel, perhaps reality is at fault ... If Stamm’s prose appears to some as 'bloodless' and 'cold,' might that be because it unspools almost like reportage? He’s a journalist embedded on the front lines of his characters’ psyches, not invested in manipulating their choices according to theme. Or, at least, that’s how he manipulates us, even as he builds his themes with a hidden smile ... vintage Stamm, a story collection predicated on how humans behave, not how we might like them to behave. Case closed, mouth shut, eyes wide open to see the truth.
What happens might be what's most interesting about [these stories], because formally and stylistically they're coolly self-effacing, rendered, in reviewers' parlance, in unadorned prose. As with the flat telling of fairy tales, on the smooth surfaces of Stamm's stories we slip easily from ordinary to strange, distinctions elided ... Whether it's Stamm, an award-winning Swiss writer, or Michael Hofmann, his trusty translator, mixing things up, the occasional confusion is typical of these stories, where characters wander between menace and melancholy, finding themselves without ever quite knowing where they are.