The work of Handke is written in the first person. We still do not recognize the name of the narrator. There are not many external events in the story. It represents a free chronicle of several days, which are marked for the hero by a severe spiritual crisis. A young writer from Austria, he came to America, driven by an intolerable state of despair. The reason is a months-long conflict with his wife, who grew into a desperate, withering hatred of the people closest to each other. This enmity drained and devastated the hero. He is experiencing a deep depression, coloring all the perception of the world around him. The words seem strange and inexpressive. Time flows as if in different dimensions. The lostness in a foreign country, where he is nothing more than a human unit, is not necessary
The writer has three thousand dollars. This is all he owns, since his wife withdrew the rest of the money from his account. For a while he should be enough. And now he moves from city to city, changes hotel after hotel, completely left to himself and immersed in his own experiences. In his mind come memories of childhood, then their details with Judit quarrels, then some kind of volatile impressions of the day. The structure of his feelings and thoughts gives out a person of extraordinary, creative and intellectual, incredibly tired of his own reflection and lost the meaning of life.
In his movements there is a strange logic. On the one hand, he is afraid of meeting his wife, on the other – it is to this endeavor. He tries to understand by the postmark where Judit stopped, calls up hotels, persistently leaves his phone numbers, so that his wife can find him. In all this, there is a painful, self-destructive
Wandering through the streets, bars and cinemas, he continues to think haphazardly – mostly about his own life. Why, for example, does he never experience the inherent joy of nature? Why does not she bring him a sense of freedom and happiness? The hero explains this by the circumstances of his own rural childhood, heavy and poor impressions. “I was only pushed out to work in nature since I was a child,” he realizes with calm bitterness… “I never could afford anything there.” For the same reason, the strongest childish emotion was fear – the act of cognition was forever associated with him. The hero understands that in his books the world is reflected, as it were, in a crooked mirror, that he is more concerned with the process of decay than living creation. “Ruins have always interested me more than at home.”
Only with the advent of Judith in his life did the hero feel real feelings. Obviously, for a while they were really happy, but now there was nothing left between them except furious hatred. The writer remembers that in the last six months he did not call his wife anything other than “creature” or “creature”. He admits that he possessed an insistent desire to strangle her. Their hatred went through various painful stages, and they could not part and painfully needed each other’s presence. “What a miserable life this was! .. Enmity passed into a voluptuous, enchanting alienation.” I lay in a log in my room all day long… “
After a few days of total loneliness, the hero calls a familiar American woman, who lives near Philadelphia. She is a translator from German. Three years ago, on his first visit to America, they were blinded by a short passion. Claire proposes to go to St. Louis, where he is going with his daughter.
Again the road – this time by car. Claire is driving. Her daughter is only two years old. “She does not have a child from me,” the hero remarks in this regard. The girl has a strange name – Benedictine Delta. For a day they pass three hundred kilometers, put the girl to bed and sit next to take a breath. The hero tells Claire that he is reading Keller’s novel, “Green Henry,” who listens, struggling with fatigue. The next day they continue their journey. Gradually, the hero embraces a growing sense of relaxation and freedom. He thoughtlessly follows the landscapes that flash through the window – first Ohio, then Indiana, then West Virginia. Their relationship with Clare is full of simplicity and naturalness. The girl with her funny quirks lives next to her touching serious life. Claire talks about America – that this country is striving to preserve its historical childhood, that crazy people here are pouring out dates of national victorious battles. And she also notes that she does not have her own America – like a hero – that she could leave if she needed… During one of the stops, when the hero went for a walk with the girl in his arms, he suddenly almost got bogged down in a swamp. It happened suddenly. Having made an effort, he got on a bump in one boot…
Finally they reach St. Louis, where they visit Claire’s friends – artists. This couple is notable for the fact that for ten years of marriage has not lost some primal love and “convulsive tenderness.” Communication with each other makes for them the content and meaning of being. “Our tenderness,” observes the hero about himself and Claire, “was that I talked a lot, and Claire listened and occasionally inserted something.” They help the owners to paint the house, walk, take care of the girl, make an entertaining walk along the Mississippi on the steamer Mark Twain in the company of local residents.
“In those days, I first learned what real cheerfulness is…” – says the hero.- I felt with extraordinary force the general bliss of life without convulsions and fear, “And in this characteristic atmosphere for Central America, he is seized by a healing desire for simplicity and fullness of being. He wants to find such a “schedule and a way of life that you can just live in a good way.” Slowly, through the most elementary values of being, he acquires a sense of belonging to the world and the restoration of torn bonds. Claire in one of the conversations compares it with Green Henry – he also only “followed the development of events, but he did not meet…”.
In St. Louis, the writer receives news from Judith – she comes just on the day of his thirtieth birthday. On the postcard with the typographical inscription: “Happy birthday!” made a postscript by hand: “The last.” The hero suddenly realizes that they decided to kill him, and, strangely enough, it calms him a little, as if there is nothing more to be afraid of. At the same time, he alone watches John Ford’s film “Young Mr. Lincoln.” On this film, he experiences sincere excitement, is addicted to and discovers America. He is extraordinarily impressed by Lincoln’s example, his authority and his ability to convince people. Especially in the episode when Lincoln, as a young lawyer, defended two fellow farmers from an unfair charge of killing a policeman. The writer’s heart is compressed with delight, and he too wants to realize himself “
Then the hero says goodbye to Claire and travels to Oregon.
It’s raining, it’s a feeling of absolute emptiness. He intends to meet with Brother Gregor, who went to America many years ago and has since worked at the local sawmill. First he comes to his empty and wretched room in the hostel. My brother does not. In the morning the hero goes straight to the sawmill. The meeting, however, will not take place. When the writer sees Gregor, he sits down under the spruce for need. The hero turns and walks away…
Meanwhile, Judit’s aggressiveness is intensifying. First, a parcel comes from her, which turns out to be an explosive device. Then the hero discovers that sulfuric acid flows in the bathroom instead of tap water. Every time he is a hair from death. Finally, the wife organizes a robbery by his flock of Mexican boys…
The hero embraces the conviction that a close outcome is imminent. Having received another postcard with the image of the place Twin-Rocks on the Pacific coast, he without hesitation, for the last money, goes there. Alone, he sits on the shore and thinks about how far he went in his alienation. Something makes him look back – he turns his head and sees Judit, who is aiming at him from the gun. Shot. It seems to the hero that everything is over, and he is surprised at the simplicity of what happened. However, he is alive and not even injured. “With frozen faces, like two idols, we were approaching each other.” Judit drops the gun, loudly and desperately screams, then cries. The hero gently hugs her, then raises his weapon and throws it into the sea.
… The last episode of the story – a visit to the writer along with Judith John Ford in his villa in California. The great film director at the time of this meeting is seventy-six years old. His whole appearance is full of calm dignity and a non-indicative interest in life. He explains to his European guests the features of America as a nation and human community: “We always say” we “, even when it comes to our personal affairs… Probably because for us everything that we do is part of one big thing… We are not worried about our “I”, like you, the Europeans… In America, “he continues,” it’s not customary to puff up and not be taken for granted. “We do not yearn for solitude.” So says Ford, not at all idealizing his country, but wanting to show its difference and give it its due.
Then he addresses the guests and asks them to tell “his story”. Judit honestly admits that at first she passionately pursued her husband, and now they decided to just quietly and peacefully part,
Ford laughs and asks: “Is it true?”
“Yes,” confirms the hero. “It was so.”