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Thursday, June 09, 2016

The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1970) by Peter Handke

Still from the movie version of The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick by Peter Handke.  Wim Wenders made the film.
Book Review
The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1970)
by Peter Handke

  Welcome to the 1970's!!!  This 1001 Books Project has been a decade long odyssey, but now that I'm well into the 20th century it feels less like a project and more just like catching up on books I've always meant to read.  And catching up on books I never would have read without the 1001 Books project to spur me on.  Peter Handke is one of the most well known German authors of his generation, and he placed three books on the first version of the 1001 Books list.  In 2008, he was reduced to two titles, and The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick was the book that got cut.  The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick is like a mixture of The Stranger and mid period Beckett, though Handke's Austrian nationality and tonal similarity makes comparisons to Kafka inevitable.

  In recent years, Handke's reputation has suffered due to his high spirited support for the war-criminal heavy Serbian government during their disastrous series of regional wars in the past decade.   He spoke at the funeral of Milosevic, in Serbian, and praised his regime.  Handke was and is extremely prolific, with dozens of books and plays, many of which been translated into English.  The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick was made into a film by Wim Wenders, and Handke later worked on the script for Wenders classic film, Wings of Desire.

   This all goes to explain why Peter Handke is on the 1001 Books list in the first place, and with three titles he's in Thomas Mann or Gunter Grass territory for a German writer on this list.  The 1001 Books editorial staff has certainly demonstrated that a support for fascist or totalitarian politics is no bar to inclusion on the list.

  The Goalie mentioned in the title is an ex-goalie, recently unemployed, who drifts through small town Germany, near the border of then East and West Germany.  He murders a woman after they have sex, for no reason at all.  Later he murders a clerk for similarly vague reasons and maintains an affect that could charitably be described as "blank" and uncharitably as psychotic.  The goalie isn't necessarily a bad guy, he just happens to murder two people as he is slowly losing his mind.  In one memorable scene, the goalie is reduced to thinking in symbols, unable to summon the words to describe his simple hotel room-dwelling.

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