Short Letter, Long Farewell is one the most inventive and exhilarating of the great Peter Handke’s novels. Full of seedy noir atmospherics and boasting an air of generalized delirium, the book starts by introducing us to a nameless young German who has just arrived in America, where he hopes to get over the collapse of his marriage. No sooner has he arrived, however, than he discovers that his ex-wife is pursuing him. He flees, she follows, and soon the couple is running circles around each other across the length of America—from Philadelphia to St. Louis to the Arizona desert, and from Portland, Oregon, to L.A. Is it love or vengeance that they want from each other? Everything’s spectacularly unclear in a book that is travelogue, suspense story, domestic comedy, and Western showdown, with a totally unexpected Hollywood twist at the end. Above all, Short Letter, Long Farewell is a love letter to America, its landscapes and popular culture, the invitation and the threat of its newness and wildness and emptiness, with the promise of a new life—or the corpse of an old one—lying just around the corner.
About the Author
Peter Handke was born in Griffen, Austria, in 1942. He came to early prominence in the 1960s for such experimental plays as Kaspar and rapidly established himself as one of the most respected German-language writers of his generation, producing fiction, translations, memoirs, screenplays, and essays. Among his best-known novels are The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, Repetition, and My Year in the No-Man’s Bay. He has directed adaptions of his novels The Left-Handed Woman and Absence and collaborated with filmmaker Wim Wenders on four films, including Wings of Desire. In addition to Short Letter, Long Farewell, NYRB Classics has also published Handke’s novel Slow Homecoming and his memoir A Sorrow Beyond Dreams.
Greil Marcus is the author of The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice, Lipstick Traces, and other books; with Werner Sollors he is the editor of A New Literary History of America, forthcoming in 2009. In recent years he has taught at the University of California at Berkeley, Princeton University, the New School University, and the University of Minnesota. He was born in San Francisco and lives in Berkeley.
Ralph Manheim (1907–1992) translated Günter Grass, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Hermann Hesse, and Martin Heidegger, along with many other German and French authors.
Praise for Short Letter, Long Farewell…
“The Austrian novelist Peter Handke is known for his fictional meditations on the uneasy relationship between language and reality. These three interrelated stories are ‘the work of a totally serious major artist,' Malcolm Bradbury said here in 1985. 'He believes in writing as an artistic and philosophical inquiry, a search into forms.'” –The New York Times
“The three works comprising Slow Homecoming are closer to a true dialectic than Handke’s work has ever before sought.” –American Book Review
“This is a postmodernism in its most exciting and challenging form, a work of literature that makes the redefinition of reality and of fiction a possibility.” –Choice
“Handke’s self-portrait of the artist [leaves] us with doubts that can only be induced by the work of a totally serious major artist.” –Malcolm Bradbury, The New York Times Book Review
"Handke is a prolific writer of plays, poetry, short stories, literary essays and scripts for television and film...Handke orders in a language so powerful and self-possessed - and marvelously translated by Ralph Manheim - without ever being precious or self-conscious, that it creates an imagined awareness a leap beyond what we thought possible. A rich and delicate gift, before which the reader both spins and stands still." –The San Francisco Chronicle
“A leading literary figure in the first generation of Germans to grow up after the war...He is a man of real intellectual power and sometimes visionary insight. His fingers are never far from the pulse...“ –The Washington Post
PRAISE FOR HANDKE
“One of the most original and provocative of contemporary writers.” –Lawrence Graver, The New York Times
“Peter Handke…perhaps the most interesting young writer in German today.” –Frank Kermode
"There is no denying Handke's willful intensity and knife-like clarity of emotion. He writes from an area beyond psychology, where feelings acquire the adamancy of randomly encountered, geologically analyzed pebblesÉThe best writer, altogether, in his language." –John Updike, The New Yorker
"His experimental poetry and anarchic, anti-authoritarian work win him a following among Germany's left-wing `1968ers'. Handke aims to strip away unnecessary words and challenge linguistic conventions, developing a spare, robust prose style." –The Guardian
"IMAGINE a cross between Holden Caulfield and Bertolt Brecht, and you'll have a sense of the Austrian novelist, playwright and screenwriter Peter Handke, whose alienation from the phony and harmful adult world is as pure as his esthetic purity is purposefully alienating...As it happened, Handke ended up writing social criticism with a vengeance...though to some degree time-bound tales of angst, have a pained, mysterious beauty. Their alluring tension lies in the little war they prosecute between eloquence of expression and rage at the loss of meaning." –The New York Times
"Peter Handke made his reputation as an important writer with a fierce, icy set of plays and novels: Offending the Audience, Kaspar, The Ride Across Lake Constance, The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick and Short Letter, Long Farewell. Oblique yet startlingly immediate, these works embodied in fresh fictional and dramatic forms concerns that seemed particularly postmodern, notably an obsession (indeed, a disgust) with the way language itself defines and constricts human possibilities." –The New York Times
“The David Byrne of fiction: a writer with a resonant, powerfully direct voice who could invoke the particular Sartrean nausea of postmodern existence in the simplest events.” –The New York Times
“Handke is a securely established star of the German-speaking literary world, ‘the darling of the West German critics,’ and a ‘key figure of his generation.’” –The New York Times
“One of the most original and provocative of contemporary writers.” –The New York Times
“Handke was and is, one of the most eminent narrative and dramatic writers of postwar Europe.” –The Boston Globe
“Peter Handke must be acknowledged as one of the major voices in contemporary fiction.” –Partisan Review
“One awaits with pleasure whatever Peter Handke turns to next…Since the 1960s, he has been a popularly acclaimed novelist, playwright and poet and a long-standing critical success. He now creates a more rarefied, demanding art coupled with a lucid yet mythic affirmation of life.” –The Boston Herald
“In power and vision and range, Peter Handke is the most important new writer on the international scene since Beckett.” –Stanley Kaufmann, Saturday Review
“His prose is reminiscent of the writings of Henry James…a passion for understanding, for grasping the tortured complexities of contemporary life.” –The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Peter Handke achieved the kind of succes de scandale every ambitious young writer dreams of... and Mr. Handke became the enfant terrible of the European avant-garde...But Mr. Handke has aged well, and now, as the prolific author of plays, novels, essays, stories and poems, he is regarded as one of the most important writers in German.” —The New York Times