The collected stories of a master storyteller: a world of hope and despair, cunning and guile
Over a period of twenty years, F.B. Hotz produced a wonderful body of work which occupies a prominent place in Dutch letters. In a crystal-clear style and with razor sharp observations, Hotz evokes a world of flamboyant layabouts, anxious door-to-door salesmen with families to support, and jazz musicians who live only for their music. In these consummate stories everything revolves around balance. Guilt must be bought off with sacrifices. To create something beautiful, ‘something light, something over which time and unhappiness have no dominion,’ was, in Hotz’s eyes, the greatest gift.
The author was reluctant to give interviews. The stories had to do the work, stories like his wonderful tales of the time between the world wars, when the hope of a better world had not yet been banished forever. The romance, the music and the glory of the blue tram to the sea soften the grimness and surround his prose with a melancholy mist. But no matter which era Hotz chooses for his characters, his style and tone immediately and effortlessly raise them above it and make them timeless.
More often than not, his stories deal with solitary men, whose dreams strand on reality, fate, grasping women and the unfriendly world. The shady characters triumph: dubious black marketeers, fathers who stroll away from their families, bitchy thirteen-year old Lolitas who manipulate grown men. The writer sympathises with losers, but awards the irresponsible their laurels. Because, as he once wrote: ‘Charm is such a precious commodity that those who possess it are cherished like rare creatures.’
Something small, like the humiliating ordeal to which a schoolboy is subjected by his classmates in ‘The Assignment’, can take on apocalyptic proportions, but the war itself becomes a minor detail for a boy who has just discovered his father’s jazz records. The laconic style puts world events in their place, if only for a moment. A casual sentence about a couple huddling together during the Depression distils all the hopelessness of that era: ‘A woman was lying with her back towards me, with the chilly, flabby buttocks of poverty and exile.’ In F.B. Hotz’s wistful, evocative prose glimmers a bygone world of hope and despair, cunning and guile. It is the work of a writer who is unique in all respects.