ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Robert Wexelblatt, The Thirteenth Studebaker, BlazeVOX [Books], 2021. Reviewed by Ricardo Nirenberg

About this new book of stories by Wexelblatt, I cannot refrain from repeating what I said about his earlier collection of stories, Petites Suites, four years ago: reading it, you think you’re in a writer’s wonderland. The title looks mysterious, at least it did for me; I’ll begin with a clarification so we can concentrate on the real mysteries of the book. When the Studebaker car makers were about to go under, an urban legend went around that the workers kept the defective parts aside, and piled them all onto each thirteenth chassis. When someone complained about the lemon he had been sold, another would comment, “You must have got a thirteenth Studebaker.” In the eponymous story, the situation is shifted from a machine to a human being, a young woman who believes every part of her body and soul is defective and even the chassis is twisted. Somehow, but I’m not about to tell you how, in the end she achieves, or is granted, a saving grace.

Something similar is achieved, in a more dramatic way, in the story – ironically titled “Switzerland” – about Korbelius,  world-wide famous poet, imprisoned by an anonymous totalitarian regime suggestive of one of the members of the now extinct Warsaw Pact, and his interrogator, Petra Voss, a statuesque, well-educated, and altogether beautiful woman who tempts him with all manners of satisfaction – to his vanity, to his pocket, even to his sex drive (she lets down for him her beautiful, perfumed hair), if he only agrees to follow the party line in his writings.  To those attempts at conversion, Korbelius invariably says, No. Until, finally, he is sent to a labor camp. There he can indulge in a fantasy in which both he and Petra are safely together in Switzerland...  I’ll stop here, but there, again, is the saving grace.

Having read these new stories by Robert Wexelblatt, I think I now understand for the first time the enigmatic saying of the Prussian poet and playwright Heinrich von Kleist: “When perception has passed through infinity, gracefulness reappears.”


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