I read the NYRB Classics edition, which contains two linked novellas about the same characters. The first, Cutting It Short, is from the point of view of the wife of a brewery manager in a small town in Czechoslovakia, and the second, The Little Town Where Time Stood Still, is from the point of view of their son, but is primarily about the manager’s brother. Both narratives proceed recklessly, relating a series of slightly peculiar anecdotes about village life and leaving it to the reader to make of it what they will. In this way it feels a little like a fairy tale. Fairy anecdotes, really. I am a little reminded of the work of Jim Heynen.
Somehow I wound up admiring the seemingly undisciplined maneuver he makes in both novellas of slowly coming around to mentioning the phrase that gives each piece its title, then hammering on the idea hard a few more times to bring the pieces to their conclusions.
I thought it a sign of being written without much revising, really, in a state of exuberance similar to that of the characters he is writing about. But I misinterpreted the feeling — in the afterword, Hrabal writes that the book was written during a period of mortal illness in which he felt he might not live long enough to fill in the details.
Even more undisciplined is the way The Little Town Where Time Stood Still starts with a first person narration by the couple’s son, relating an incident from his own childhood, but then takes up the story of his rowdy uncle, who then crowds the narrator completely out the rest of the story, to the point where he is not present for any of the following scenes he relates.
But the book is animated by the strong feelings of the peculiar people within it, and this enchantment makes me forgive the formal lapses.