Masquerade and Other Stories by Robert Walser

To me, it seems like Masquerade and Other Stories by Robert Walser would be better titled “Masquerade and Other Prose Pieces” instead of referring to stories. As I see it, Walser appears to have his own idea what constitutes a story (just as he definitely has his own idea about the way to do a lot of different things in writing). Calling these prose pieces just might make things easier. Personally, I think Walser is better just to enjoy as opposed to having to debate about anything.

(Note, for those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 9th for Lydia Millet.)

Let’s take a look at “The Gloves” as an example:

Nothing else occurs to me; I see only a pair of gloves lying wearily on the edge of the table. It’s clear to me how tired and sad they are, these gloves. Won’t they fit anyone, is that why they have to hang here like autumn leaves? They are yellow, trimmed in dark brown fur. Long and narrow.  How poor gloves are when they can’t live snuggled up against a beautiful hand.

Walser contemplates a pair of gloves. Different women try them on but they don’t fit. Eventually, a woman who is unhappy tries the gloves on and they fit. Walser then reflects on how the gloves are happy and the woman is not.

That’s it. That’s the story. At first glance, it seems like a bit of a weird story, but it has an interesting effect on the reader. It’s haunting, though I can’t exactly explain why. You’d have to look for yourself to really understand.

Picking another, let’s submit this portion from “The Girl (II)” for your consideration:

On a bench along an avenue sat a girl. All around her lay gardens with charming houses inside, and the girl, you might say, was lovely to look at.

Everyone who saw her sitting so quietly on her own had a desire to engage her in conversation. Soon someone stepped up and offered her a book to read. Thanking him, she turned down his offer, however, saying she wished nothing more than to sit quietly.

People keep offering her things, inviting her to dinner and such. She politely declines, reiterating her wish just to sit quietly. After a bit of this, the piece ends, the girl grateful for the sun and comparing the people to “water that came and went.”

Again, that’s it. It’s a great piece to sit and enjoy, but it’d give you fits to try to analyze it as a story. We won’t even get into use of phrases like “lovely to look at” instead of going further.

Pulling back to the big picture, though, the pieces in Masquerade and Other Stories tend to wander. Walser seems to start where he likes, goes where he likes, and stops things when he feels like he’s done. He definitely did his own thing, which I do enjoy (though outside of his writing this sort of thing may have had some part in him being put in an asylum for a large portion of his life under an apparent misdiagnosis of schizophrenia). It just seems better to avoid nitpicking about it.

Personally, I’d just advise sitting down with Masquerade and Other Stories and not worrying a whole lot about what it is. Life is simpler that way.

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