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Selected Stories (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – January 31, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Described by Susan Sontag in the introduction to his Selected Stories as "a good-humored, sweet Beckett," Swiss novelist Robert Walser (1878-1956) committed himself to a sanatorium in 1933 and spent the rest of his life there. Admired by Hesse and Kafka, his subjects in these mostly very short pieces (an exception being the melancholic "The Walk") are various and appealing from an essay on trousers to a mock job application and a short "play" involving a stork and a porcupine: "What a kissing that would have been! We shudder at the thought of it." An excellent introduction to a masterful writer.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: German

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 252 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; LATER PRINTING edition (March 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0940322986
  • ISBN-13: 978-0940322981
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #507,454 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Robert Walser (1878-1956) worked as a bank clerk, a butler in a castle, and an inventor's assistant before discovering what William H. Gass calls his "true profession." From 1899 until he was misdiagnosed as a schizophrenic in 1933 and institutionalized for the rest of his life, Walser produced nine novels and more than a thousand stories.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By "50cent-haircut" on April 3, 2002
Format: Paperback
Although his novel "Jakob von Gunten" is a masterpiece, the maniacal genius of Walser is more easily discovered in his short fiction. If Kafka's vision is maddening and claustrophobic, Walser, who deals with a similar kind of surrealistic world, applies a lighter, more deftly playful touch. Sometimes, the puns and literary license Walser take can be willful and test a reader's patience, but the sheer force of his philosophy and world view contained in these miniaturist stories are awe-inspiring, and are on par with the delirious vision of Kafka. Walser is a kind of a writer who can turn from anger to unbearable tenderness within a sentence. Many of these stories will move you and frustrate you at the same time, but all the risks he takes are still, and I suspect always will be, thrillingly modern and relevant. I only wish his excellent reworkings of fairy tales (I'm thinking especially of 'Snow White') could have been included in this volume. Walser has been neglected for far too long, and the longer his work languishes in obscurity, the world is that much more at a loss.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Buce on January 31, 2004
Format: Paperback
Unplug the phone, cancel all your appointments, put the cat out -- okay, you can keep the cat. But Robert Walser's wonderful "Selected Stories" must be read in an atmosphere of silence, with complete attention. You owe it to yourself to have a chance to appreciate this utterly distinctive voice. Others have called him a "comic Kafka," and others have complained that he is not a "comic Kafka," so perhaps we can stipulate that he is "the writer who is not a comic Kafka." He is, indeed a good deal more hospitable and accessible than Kafka, but he is not always comic in "A Little Ramble," (which might be my favorite of these collected short items), he can stop you in your tracks. I haven't read Walser's novel, "Jakob von Gunten," yet (though I certainly plan to) but I wonder if Walser's peculiar talents aren't particularly suited to a form that is ephemeral, almost furtive.
Read "The She Owl," which has a gentle charm. Read "Parisian Newspapers," which has an edge. Oh, read them all, listening to catch Walser's extraordinary voice. And aboave all, read "A Little Ramble," which might be the best onc-page story in the language.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Reviewer on March 8, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Wandering, what a brilliant, light blue joy you are!"

If the absolute inevitable truth of every word of that sentence isn't immediately clear to you, you may not be the kind of reader who will be knocked off your feet by Robert Walser, whose typical prose piece is always a kind of wandering. The most acclaimed piece (and the best, I think) in this collection is in fact titled "The Walk," a perfectly honest title that serves to summarize the plot.

If you're one who needs beginnings, middles, and ends...
If you insist on naturalistic dialogue...
If you want at least a modicum of happening...
you may not be the kind of reader who will rave about Walser to your friends, as I have been doing since I started reading him a couple years ago.

Walser was roughly a contemporary of Franz Kafka, who read and seems to have been influenced by Walser. Although Walser wrote four long pieces usually labeled as novels, his most characteristic works are short sketches, two to ten pages, only rarely resembling anything most people would call a story. Some of Walser's work was published in his lifetime, and he had a coterie of distinguished fans like Hermann Hesse. Then, after 1933, when he was committed to a "madhouse," he was as forgotten as a politician's promise. His rediscovery began with American and English readers, especially translator Christopher Middleton.

By our times, Walser is widely perceived as a pioneer surrealist; his work certainly has surreal effects, but his intentions, as I read him, were never to extend reality but merely to capture it as he alone saw it. That he was, perhaps, slightly mad and certainly eccentric did refract his vision in unexpected and original colors.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Justin Mclaughlin on July 13, 2006
Format: Paperback
Robert Walser. I came to this Teutonic scribner by way of a jackass professor I had in graduate school. In his class on Modern European literature we read "Jacob von Gunten," a 1st person neurotic diatribe about a man enrolled in a servant's college. Unlike the professor's lectures, I enjoyed certain passages of that work immensely, especially the transcendental moments where the main character describes how he melts into the shuffling masses in the city where he lives. Other sections were less engaging.

I believe that Walser's short stories, at least the ones collected here, are better able to display his literary gifts than that novella. Clearly the masses are an issue he enjoyed writing about, and there are several stories that deal vividly with the dehumanizing reality of city living, as well as office work. Clearly, Walser writes most prolifically in the fist person, a voice that is often driven by angst and inflected with various neuroses (Walser himself ended up in a mental hospital). But what I enjoyed most about this collection were the stories that differed from his normal style. Stories like the "She-Owl," "Balloon Journey," and "Kliest in Thum" are some examples. These are short third-person pieces, often only a page and a half long, which tell simple stories as they bend perception, causing the reader to see the world with new eyes. I find these short pieces more entertaining than the fist-person stories, which tend to be heavy on the solipsism and lack structure (see "The Walk"). There is something Borges about the economy of these stories, and maybe some Cortazar in their oddness. This collection rewards a thorough reading.
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