On the bus ride from the U District to Downtown this afternoon, I finished The Apartment, by Greg Baxter. I didn’t realize I’d finished it until I turned the page and arrived at the author biography.
This novel was both frustrating and fascinating, and I don’t mean either of those descriptions in a good way. I don’t mean them in a bad way, either. I’m not sure how to take this book.
It really is a novel with one chapter, named “Chapter 1”. I found that irritating. I don’t understand the point. Isn’t having one chapter the same as having no chapters?
The story takes place over the span of a single day (sort of) in an unnamed European city, close to Christmas. (I’ve never been to Eastern Europe, but this city reminded me very much of that part of the world.) The unnamed protagonist is hunting for apartments with Saskia, a woman he’s recently met. The apartment is for him – she’s there because he doesn’t speak the language, and doesn’t know the city. The two of them are very comfortable with each other, despite having known each other for only a couple of days. Yet, there doesn’t seem to be any signs that they will be romantically involved with each other.
As they make their way around the snowy city, he keeps having memories of his life in a small town in Texas, and of a former girlfriend who had an incurable illness, and of his two experiences with the Iraq war – first as a crewman in a submarine, then as a private contractor. These memories don’t seem to have anything to do with the day in the European city, except maybe to explain why he wants to live in a cold city, why he can afford an expensive apartment, and why he’s not looking for a job. And since this novel was written in a stream-of-consciousness style, those memories happen abruptly, in mid-paragraph, and go on for pages until abruptly switching back to the present action. That’s why I didn’t enjoy the book.
When it stuck with the story of two people seeing the sights of the city, riding streetcars, stopping for coffee, meeting Saskia’s friends, listening to street musicians, and just making a day of it, I enjoyed this book a lot.
During my afternoon break, I read the interview with the author (in which I learned that it wasn’t an unnamed city – it was an imaginary city) and the book club questions. Then I marked it “Finished”.
On my ride home, I started reading 2010: Odyssey Two.