Book Review: "Pfitz"

Andrew Crumey's Pfitz (Picador, 1997) may run to just 164 pages, but if you're not paying close enough attention as you read even one, beware. A postmodernist meta-romp, featuring stories within stories within stories, a whole series of narrators, and a very playful conception of "time," the novel is by fits (no pun intended) and starts delightful, bizarre, and frustrating (not necessarily in that order).

The best part is the very first chapter, outlining Crumey's framing device: an 18th-century European principality, vaguely Germanic, where the prince has opted to spend all his (and his people's) time, wealth, and energy in the creation of a fictional city. Maps will be drawn showing every aspect of the city from the streets to the buildings to the locations of its citizens; those citizens will be given minutely-detailed biographies, and if the are found to have written books, those books will be written, and placed within the exquistely-engineered Library, a Borgesian wonder-place paired with an even-more-wonderful Museum (see p. 15-16 for some absolutely wonderful descriptions of how these two great edifices would be designed).

A massive bureaucracy is, naturally, required for the undertaking of such a project, and our main protagonist, Schenck, is a minor functionary in the Cartography Division, responsible for the creation of some of the many maps of the fictional city (his project, when we meet him, is to chart the functioning of the fictional city's storm drains during downpours). But Schenck is distracted by an alluring redhead up in Biography, and in trying to please her, he quickly finds that with each layer of meta-fiction, the set lines of chronology, authorship and narrative begin to get very fluid indeed.

While I was frustrated at times over just what the book was trying to be, I very much enjoyed Crumey's descriptions in certain parts of the book: the opening chapter alone makes the book worth a read.