The Weight of Things (Book Review)
by Marianne Fritz
Literary Fiction (1978)
4 / 5 Stars
The Weight of Things is an unsettling short novel about one woman’s loneliness, futility, and compromised mental health, but she also represents a society struggling to reclaim itself after a catastrophe.
I can’t really describe what this novel is about without giving away most of it, so I’ll explain that the author is an often-overlooked literary novelist. Her novel is about far more than it appears on the surface, and while it is a quick read, it leaves much to contemplate. In writing my review and attempting to unpack it, I’ve come to understand it more than I did while reading.
It’s sometimes hard to review literary fiction because what is often an issue in a regular novel (plot, characters, etc) is deliberately obtuse or minimal in a literary novel in order to express a certain theme or concept. That being said, this novel, despite its eventual result, was not as “shattering” to me as some of the critics on the back. Perhaps this is because I found the “twist” (if you can call it that) obvious from the start ... but perhaps it’s supposed to be. Perhaps the point of the novel is that you see it coming, we all know what’s going to happen, but we’re hopeless to prevent it. We’re forced to watch, hoping against hope that what we’re reading is projections and metaphors rather than events. This helplessness, in tandem with the actions taken in the novel, is where the horror derives; we (society) are aware that something is wrong but we don’t (can’t? won'?) do anything to stop it. Just like impending war. Berta is a woman without support. A woman who has always felt like a burden, a woman who likely never recovered from postpartum depression, a woman weighed down by everyday life. Berta represents the repressive state of women in the fifties, but also a nation limping after a devastating war. Berta is both a female character and an allegory for Austria. No character is without this duality. Wilhelm is both pathetic and industrious, complacent and struggling. Wilhelmine is self-serving, but also logical. And Rudolph? The senseless death of culture and nobility. Had the war not claimed him, he would have returned to Berta, could have helped her. Perhaps. Perhaps not.
The Weight of Things is a brilliant, intelligent, deeply distressing novel that deserves to be read and studied more widely.