February 2009

D. Richard Scannell

fiction

A Leap by Anna Enquist, translated by Jeannette K. Ringold

A Leap seems to invite the reader to a subtle and technical performance; Anna Enquist is a musician, psychoanalyst, poet, and novelist. What is actually presented is a diversion costumed in themes like classical music, the bombing of Rotterdam, and female empowerment. The first four of these five monologues were commissioned by and performed at various Rotterdam cultural events. These must have been pleasant productions, augmented by the focused interest of the audience and perhaps a few drinks. As a collection of translations with the intent of being read, however, they fall somewhat short of the mark.

The emphasis in the first four monologues lies in the evocation of historical characters. What results are occasionally charming narrations backed by research that at times resemble the role-playing one finds at historically-themed parks. The desire to tell a story and present history tends to stifle the impact of Enquist’s material. This restraint occurs most poignantly in the first monologue, featuring Alma, budding composer and wife of Gustav Mahler. The monologue seems poised to present a difficult and engaging relationship. Alma explains Mahler’s demands of complete subjugation to him. She freely chooses to put aside her own aspirations in order to fully serve her husband. There are no social forces at work here aside from the character’s own version of ambition. It’s an infuriating moment -- but also stimulating. The potential is then defused by Alma’s inability to focus. This may or may not be an accurate recreation of the original’s psychology, but it makes her situation too normal. Given the short length of the piece, the lack of focus disrupts what could have been an intense crescendo.

The strongest of the monologues is “The Doctor,” delivered by an accomplished Dutch surgeon amidst the German occupation of Rotterdam. He is ordered at gunpoint to treat the depressed skull fracture of a Nazi general. The phrase, “I should have killed him,” launches the monologue and echoes powerfully throughout. The doctor grapples with the decision, but ultimately decides that his job is to heal people without regard for identity. Though no technical link is established through vocabulary or syntax (at least not in the English), one can’t help but recognize the professional link between the surgeon and the general: indiscriminate healer and indiscriminate destroyer. It is the piquant sense of injustice combined with the measured use of visceral description that really drive this monologue though. Enquist, writing as the surgeon, employs concise, vivid descriptions of the surgeon’s work. Performed well, this brief monologue could leave the audience with damp, clenched hands and eyes dry from not blinking.

As for the last monologue in the book, “…and I’m Sara,” if you’ve ever enjoyed sitting in a coffee shop in which the twenty-something in the seat right behind you is talking about herself at length on her cell phone, then you’ll be right at home.

Overall, this book contains some solid, if uninspired monologues that could yield entertaining performances if well-handled. But they’re also nothing to get excited about. Save your money.

A Leap by Anna Enquist, translated by Jeannette K. Ringold
The Toby Press
ISBN: 1592642586
100 pages