March 31, 2013

Joseph Roth: Perlefter

I’ve just begun Roth’s Perlefter, a novel he abandoned several years before he died (a state I see as categorically different from a novel unfinished because of death…) So I can’t say if I will like it or not, but I already love this from the (apparently) unfinished first chapter: “Professor Tobias was the only man in our town with a top hat. As he had holes in his pockets he needed to wear such a hat. On his head he comfortably hid an inkwell and a feather. This had the disadvantage that he could not offer greetings to anyone.”

If you’re new to Roth, go for Rebellion or Hotel Savoy for early work with an absurdist bent, or Right and Left or Radetzky March for the later realism.


  1. Michael Grant Smith on March 31st, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    No greetings, but you could bet he would write about you later.

  2. Sheila Ryan on April 1st, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    Renner, I really need to read me some Joseph Roth. Especially seeing as how you crack me up when you say “Joseph Roth” aloud.

  3. Daryl Scroggins on April 1st, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    I like that category of abandoned work. It tends to be best the crazier the writer is (or was). Great throbbing plans for epic explorations of the human condition–set aside for observations of sunlight crossing a floor.

  4. Sheila Ryan on April 1st, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    I’m adopting “abandoned work” as a category next time I organize the papers of a literary individual.

  5. Cooper on April 1st, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    So far I’m not very much in love with Perlefter. The short first chapter was rather lovely. Chapter two and chapter three (so far) are more like essay–“character study”–than narration.

  6. Sheila Ryan on April 1st, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    Be that as it may, Renner, I’m struck by your — what? curiosity? — to see what Roth may have been up to before he abandoned the book. Giving it a chance in the event there’s something there.

    “Curiosity” does not quite capture what I’m struggling to convey.

    Maybe what I have in mind is more like “We keep on reading/Because we’re optimists.”

  7. Michael Grant Smith on April 1st, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    My work is abandoned mostly by others.

  8. Sheila Ryan on April 1st, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    Others don’t know shit, MGS

  9. Daryl Scroggins on April 1st, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    Michael, people who know what will last and have a taste for it will never abandon your work. For instance, your recent story (posted here) about checking on the eternally barking dog across the street is for me a signpost in my psyche pointing to the possibility of making true things.

  10. Sheila Ryan on April 1st, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Yeah, that was a wonderful story, Michael.

  11. Michael Grant Smith on April 1st, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    Thank you. I was just kidding but I’ll give you one hour to quit talking like that.

  12. Michael Grant Smith on April 1st, 2013 at 10:11 pm

    The dog story was true except for the parts I made up.

  13. Sheila Ryan on April 1st, 2013 at 10:49 pm

    Okay, MGS, I got 20 minutes or thereabouts, so I can tell people to go read some of your stories at

    ‘Cause they are right fine and will sometimes give a person that feeling that’s like iron filings down a tube runs from the back of their skull down into their spine.

    But not in a bad way.

  14. Sheila Ryan on April 1st, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    I guess we kinda hijacked Renner’s post about Joseph Roth. But the way I see it, Joseph Roth is dead (rest his soul, if his soul requires rest), and Michael Grant Smith is alive.

    Which doesn’t mean you can’t read the both of them. Joseph Roth. And Michael Grant Smith.

  15. Erica Braverman on April 1st, 2013 at 10:54 pm

    I’d never heard of Joseph Roth until this post. Cooper, if it gets better, let me know and I’ll add it to my to read list. In the meantime, I’ve got some MGS to read.

  16. Sheila Ryan on April 1st, 2013 at 11:15 pm

    I keep thinking I’ll spot Roth’s “Radetsky March” in a bookstore, but I’m thinking I gotta drive to Madison for that kind of luck.

    They do say you can order books from places afar. And there are libraries and this thing called inter-library loan. And these new-fangled e-books the kids talk about.

    So I shouldn’t let my driftless regional residency stand between me and Joseph Roth. Not really.

  17. Cooper Renner on April 2nd, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    Y’all hijack to yer hearts’ content. (Plural possessive: hearts’, i.e. the hearts of more than one of you.)