Arno Camenisch - Sez Ner
Sez Ner by Swiss author Arno Camenisch is concerned with imagery and the inter-connectedness of things as they are recalled. The story eschews plot in favour of a series of connected vignettes revolving around a farm, some pigs, and the people caring for the animals. Each of the 16 sections are brief and sharp, taut like a tightened string. We expect something to happen that will bring it all together but nothing does – the tension remains coiled and the story ends.
The rooster isn't afraid, it doesn't run away, is one aggressive bastard, the farmhand says. When the farmhand gets too close, it jumps up on him. Your man's steel-toed boot it takes, to shoo it away. The rooster, a handsome beast, guards it hens, covers them constantly. Any time, any place, anywhere.
Quoted in full above is one of the sixteen sections. Granted, it is smaller than most of them, but the general feel is the same. Here, we are introduced to the rooster, its physical presence, its place in the heirarchy of the farm, and its desires. Section after section introduces us to cows, pigs, dogs, priests, dairymen with their schnapps, tourists. Camenisch places them within the overarching context of the farm, shows us how they interact and align (or don't) with the environment, and then moves on. The effect is akin to that of hearing a friend discuss his childhood, one you didn't share but has become vaguely familiar due to the constant retelling. By the end of Sez Ner there is a sensation of appreciation for farm life (or at least, this farm's life), but not of understanding. We don't know the ins and outs of farming, but we certainly recognise the feelings and expectations.
There are few names in Sez Ner. Some mountains which, according to (brief) research, don't actually exist in the Alps. “Clemen”, another farmer, unattached to this farm. Glion, a town. Subaru, the name of a Japanese automobile manufacturer. These proper nouns attach us to the world but they act to remove us from the farm; curiously, the sections which involve “the tourists” or “the farmhand” or “the rooster” are often more concretely described, made clearer through the excision of a name.
The cheese is swelling. During the night, the stone weights crash to the floor, wakening everyone. The swineherd and the cowherd carry the over-ripened cheeses through the clear night, across the square, through the cowshed, to behind the cowshed, and dump them in the slurry. Neither the dairyman nor his farmhand budges to help. They stay where they are in the doorway, their hands in their pockets.
My childhood was not lived on a farm. Perhaps yours was. Perhaps Camenisch's wasn't. Whatever the answer, Sez Ner feels like a series of loosely connected memories shared hurriedly over a beverage, but told with feeling. The sixteen sections come across more vividly than the small word count of the story would suggest, partly because they are so ephemeral. The reader is left to fill in the blanks, to discover why these particular sixteen stories have been shared and not sixteen others, and in doing so, becomes more involved with the piece than perhaps they would have been were the connections clearer. By forcing us to think about connections and relevance, we are forced in effect to think, to forge relationships that may or may not exist. It's a fascinating technique, a trick of cohesion that works through vagueness.
Sez Ner is a wisp of a story. There isn't much to it, but it feels like there is. Camenisch does a lot with a little, which is admirable, but, like a wisp, the story rapidly floats away once it has been read. It's likeable, and makes one think, which is nice, but there isn't much to it than a succession of images, flashing sharply and then fading away.
Sez Ner by Arno Camenisch is a short story from the Dalkey Archive Press' anthology, Best European Fiction 2012
Other stories from the Dalkey Archive Press' anthology, Best European Fiction 2012, include:
------Belgium (Flemish): de Martelaere, Patricia - My Hand is Exhausted
------Croatian: Hrgović, Maja - Zlatka
------Spanish (Galician): Fernández Paz, Agustín - This Strange Lucidity
------Polish: Rudnicki, Janusz - The Sorrows of Idiot Augustus
------Irish: Rosenstock, Gabriel - “...everything emptying into white”
------Hungarian: Bán, Zsófia - When There Were Only Animals
------Portuguese: Zink, Rui - Tourist Destination
------Georgian: Dephy, David - Before the End
------Irish: Hogan, Desmond - Kennedy
------Russian: Davydov, Danila - The Telescope
------Czech: Kratochvil, Jiří - I, Loshaď
------Estonian: Kõomägi, Armin - Logisticians Anonymous
Best European Fiction 2011 short stories under review
Best European Fiction 2010 short stories under review
Index of titles by The Dalkey Archive Press under review
Index of short stories under review