Brutally true ‘Montauk’ parallels author’s conflicted real life

The short autofictional novel centers on a weekend tryst the narrator has with a much younger woman.

The reader closes “Montauk” on its flawed but sympathetic character with an understanding of his moods, dreams, and frustrations, and just how essential the act of writing has been to him.

The reader closes “Montauk” on its flawed but sympathetic character with an understanding of his moods, dreams, and frustrations, and just how essential the act of writing has been to him.

By Heartwood, Everett Public Library staff

Montauk is a short autofictional novel structured around a long-weekend tryst the narrator has with a woman, Lynn, some three decades his junior. The narrator has worked as an architect, and as a writer of plays and fiction, and the events recounted in Montauk very much resemble those in the life of the author. After meeting on business in New York City regarding a U.S. book tour, Max and Lynn drive to the book’s namesake town, on the eastern tip of Long Island, where they take lodgings, share a glancing intimacy along with strained discussions, cook meals, play ping-pong, go shopping, walk on the beach.

Something about this weekend trip causes Max to want to write about it in great detail. He’d like to be attentive to everything and to invent nothing, to step free of associations or reminiscences, to simply become so concentrated in a sort of raw presence that he might begin to speak to himself as he never has in his writing or life. Of course, to discover this desire to write it up while the weekend is still underway means he is already distancing himself, stepping outside of the moment so he can observe it. And it may well be that this weekend in a foreign town, on a short-term romantic fling he knows will not last beyond these few days, triggers in the Swiss narrator the need to reflect on his life and its many messy, often unresolved, relationships.

The book is composed of interwoven fragments that fluctuate between phenomenological attention to his immediate surroundings and longer recollections of important people and events in Max’s life. These include his friend W. (since estranged), who provided intellectual and financial support, his fledgling work as an architect, his successful work as a playwright and novelist, a couple of failed marriages, his strained domestic relationship with writer Ingeborg Bachmann, and his almost non-existent relationship with a distant daughter. (I read the Wikipedia entry on Frisch after finishing this novel and was interested to see that it corroborated or clarified particular details of the narrative.)

It bears mentioning that Frisch switches periodically between writing in first person and third person, and the storytelling can be a bit challenging to track at times, as he drops one subject to pick up or return to another. But not to worry, these shifts quickly sort themselves out as you get used to the writing style, and the momentum of the story carries you along

Max comes across as neither egotistical nor self-effacing, as capable of simple joy but also tortured by self-examination. Not least, he is aware of his various failings and that he is now entering the later stages of his life. The reader closes the book on this flawed but sympathetic character with an understanding of his moods, dreams, and frustrations, and just how essential the act of writing has been to him. And indeed Frisch has accomplished something very fine here (even if it’s not strictly delimited to the present, and we are unclear about how much of it is invented): this account of his long weekend, woven with his past as it is in his many flashbacks, observations, and reflections is beautifully and attentively done.

Visit the Everett Public Library blog for more reviews and news of all things happening at the library.

Talk to us

More in Life

Patterns of nature and mythology, by a Northwest master

See new works by Alfredo Arreguín, an originator of the Pattern and Decoration style, in Langley.

Doug Fahl will play Flan Kittregdge in Red Curtain’s live-stream performance of “Six Degrees of Separation.”
Stymied by virus, Red Curtain offers live-streamed theater

The Marysville troupe plans Zoom performances of “Something Rotten!” and “Six Degrees of Separation.”

The mask of an employee who returned to the office during the normalization period after corona virus quarantine, stands in front of the keyboard. Top view. Turkey.
What seniors can expect as new normal in a post-vaccine world

Here’s a preview of post-vaccine life for older Americans, from medical care to grocery shopping.

COVID-19 updates for parents and guardians

Public Health Essentials! A blog by the Snohomish Health District.

The trick to 1892 East’s crispy French toast is a combination of cornflakes and buttery palmiers, which add great crunch and rich flavor. (Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
Is your bread stale? Don’t throw it away; make this treat

Cornflake French toast might seem a bit of a gimmick, but the added crunch is a marvel.

The Washington State Wine Commission is using August, known for decades as Washington Wine Month, to promote the Drink For WA campaign. The commission estimates it will generate 12 million impressions through advertising and social media channels. (Photo courtesy Washington State Wine Commission)
Washington wine commission rolls out Drink for WA campaign

Share an image of your special occasion along with tags of #DrinkForWA and #EatForWA.

It only takes a small amount of cash to build a homemade swamp cooler to make your home comfortable this summer. (Jennifer Bardsley)
Can a do-it-yourself swamp cooler beat the August heat?

Instead of spending $400 for an air conditioner, purchase $25 of simple parts and assemble one yourself.

Fried green tomatoes stand in fro fresh red tomatoes in this BLT sandwich. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)
Make a fried green tomato BLT when you can’t wait for ripe

Firmer than red tomatoes, with a zingy, slightly sour taste, unripe tomatoes hold their shape.

Talking to stuffed animals and other lessons of COVID-19

Teddy bears are a source of comfort and can be a sounding board for something we are trying to express.

Most Read