Anger and Care Work: Maren Wurster's "A Casual Decision". - Culture

Hardly any justification for the problematic social behavior of a fictional character triggers stronger yawning reflexes than the sentence "Mama's fault": She wasn't there enough, wasn't there at all, baked cookies with X too rarely, drank, hit Y, was but even hit, was too cool, was too dominant: the main thing was that she did something wrong.

The desolation of this monocausality is not that all of these are uncommon problems. But it is enormously difficult not to draw on the hackneyed register. The narrative regression of a difficult or even botched life to the one character from whom one can obviously expect everything, demand everything, makes one suspect of being at least a little lazy in the design of what is perhaps the most nuanced type of relationship.

Maren Wurster tackles this challenge in "A Casual Decision" by taking the two sides of the mother-child relationship radically seriously on the one hand and formally breaking them on the other: the story of Konrad, lost through his teenage years, and Konrad, who is at least severely challenged by her motherhood Although Lena is told in a book, the novel it contains is printed in two parts, which can also be read independently.

Maren Wurster: "A casual decision": Maren Wurster: A casual decision.  Novel.  Hanser Berlin, Berlin 2022. 160 pages, 22 euros.

Maren Wurster: A casual decision. Novel. Hanser Berlin, Berlin 2022. 160 pages, 22 euros.

The readers have to make a decision: start with the part about Konrad's time in the youth facility at Quellspring, where he is taken because his father Robert didn't have the energy for it education of the difficult boy - or turn the book over and start on the opposite page with the story of Lena, who leaves her son Konrad as an infant with his father? At the material level, the binding of the book carries out what the novel is about: a relationship in which separation is possible but no dissolution.

In the Konrad part, Wurster first decouples care from the mother figure: a childminder named Una takes on a fulfilling role. Later, teachers, therapists or the parents of classmates come into play. But Wurster does not fall for any It-takes-a-village educational ideal. Konrad is deserted and angry. Eventually he manages to redirect this anger into wooden sculptures that he creates. This may be a committed plea for art therapy, but Konrad's narrative voice raises doubts. He speaks in the first person and with the same all-sensory vocabulary as the third-person narrator who speaks in the Lena part of the novel.

Of course, there may be extremely articulate teenage boys, but actually, by comparison with the rest of the novel, the modeling of a teenager's voice sometimes seems like ventriloquism, in which the author frantically recalls, now adding a comment like "She already threw up on me back on".

For a long time, the burden of housework was not a real topic for literature

The relationship between anger and care is reflected in the Lena part. She tries in vain after the hardships of birth and childbed to experience care from Konrad's father Robert himself or at least to get him to give it to their son. He does not feel responsible for this, since he wanted to fulfill his partner's desire to have children, but not share them. Exhausted, Lena finally disappears from the shared apartment.

"A casual decision" belongs to one literature the concern that has emerged in recent years and its representatives (no, not representatives) are among others in the collective writing with care/rage have merged. Despite the seemingly easy accessibility of the topic of parenthood, its members mainly discuss questions about the hardships of unpaid work, which women mostly do in families and care - and also the enormous anger that arises among those who provide this service.

While there is hardly an area of ​​human activity or experience that has not been considered a suitable topic for serious literature, this has been the case with the question of the burdens of housework, emotional support for the family, childbirth and breastfeeding, the constant availability of your own body for a baby, different. This is where the collective and Wurster's novel come in.

Explicit physicality in literature is usually penetrating

The Lena part of the book begins with the pain of a breast infection, and that is also intended as a provocative gesture. Do you really want to read sentences like "These were no longer full milk breasts, they felt like leather bags filled with stones. If they weren't so painful, she could believe they didn't belong to her"? If no: why not?

Henry Miller's sperm - meant in a literary sense - was interesting enough for some circles of readers. (If you are interested in male sex, you can also just jump to the passages in "A Casual Decision" where Konrad has sex. With a classmate.)

Such physicality in literature is usually obtrusive, and whether one finds it good or bad says less about the quality of the text than about the personal relationship to these events. This may be determined by one's gender identity as well as by dominant aesthetic traditions: the presumably small extent to which breast infections play a role is inversely proportional to the frequency of this infection. Reading about it is also a matter of getting used to it.

As much as the book promotes understanding for the mother, it is unfair elsewhere

After her disappearance, Lena hides in a closet in a house that we don't learn how she got there, how she knows where it is. There she is provided with a few provisions by a stranger. Sometimes she dozes off, sometimes she feeds on her own milk, she runs through memories of her relationship with Robert.

They show Lena as a successful fashion designer who meets him at a self-discovery seminar. Robert is good looking and has a job that forces him to say phrases like "I have to write a memo." Wild infatuation, drugs, parties and then the birth of the child follow. Robert's and Konrad's interaction later takes place primarily on the phone. Konrad is actually taken care of by his childminder Una.

Wurster attaches as much importance to the tenderness in this relationship as to the lack of it in so many others. It is also a strength of the novel to describe the intertwined life of mother and child, Lena and Konrad, beyond the separation. However much this book promotes understanding and justice for the mother who does not want to be a mother, as much as it does to make it clear that the bringing together of all needs in the mother figure is an impertinence for women, it becomes so unfair elsewhere.

That Robert is an emotionally underexposed loser and dull business guy is portrayed in a way that is less unfair to this fictional character than it is to the audience, who engage with the dichotomy of the book and its characters. At this central point, however, it is then fobbed off with a fuzzi, whose behavior must be considered the root of Lena's misfortune and Konrad's life story. Supplementing the formula "Mom is to blame" with "But Dad actually has a lot more to do with it" is a tried and tested solution from a literary point of view, but it is therefore not a sufficient solution.

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