Anke stelling’s new novel : they use each other as plasticine

In her novel "Fursorge," Anke Stelling pushes the limits of what a reader can tolerate. Her protagonists are monstrous.

Anke Stelling has written a challenging book, some of which are hard to take Photo by Nane Diehl

It seems as if the Berlin author Anke Stelling has really arrived in the role of the notorious Nestbeschmutzerin. So, in the role of that person who brings to the public information from the intimate context of, let’s say, modern urban motherhood. It all started with her "Bodenentiefe Fenster," her first book after switching from the big Fischer to the small Verbrecher Verlag – a move that allowed Stelling, as she says herself, to swim free to write what she really wanted to write.

"Floor-Deep Windows" was a dark book about a construction group in Prenzlauer Berg, where everyone hates everyone else and all strive in vain for the ideals of equality and sisterhood that their mothers once set out to achieve. Now she continues with "Fursorge", a smaller, faster, but even meaner book – a book that goes further than all the contributions to the debate that have rubbed up against the phenomenon of "Regretting Motherhood", i.e. those bad mothers who kick the current ideal of euphoric parenthood into the dustbin and say of themselves that they should have left it alone for a change.

The story of "Care" is quickly told. It’s about a professional dancer who had her son as a teenager and immediately passed him on to his mother, disciplined to tackle her ballet career: "Spin, girl, spin!"

Fifteen years later, she is in her mid-thirties. The career is over, the bones are ruined, and with the heroin-addicted boyfriend nothing much is happening anymore. So Nadja, who until then had only been present in her son’s life as a telephone voice, returns to the run-down Leipzig suburb where her mother raised first her and then her grandson.

Instead of trying to establish a friendly connection with the prodigal son, Nadja involves son Mario in a violent love affair that no one around the two seems to want to know about. The care that Anke Stelling describes here actually means the opposite of the care that we seem to have become accustomed to, especially when we are educated. The only thing she means is the care for herself that both Nadja and her son Mario, who is a bodybuilder, are obsessed with.

With embarrassing meticulousness

Mother and son regard their bodies as capital. They fulfill the resulting mandate to nurture and exploit this capital with embarrassing meticulousness and a zealous sense of duty. In describing this single-mindedness – and its consequences – Stelling in some places pushes the limits of what one can bear as a reader.

While "Nadja eats like other people fill up their cars," Mario eats only synthetic protein products. While Nadja "supplies herself with various samples of pills, patches and vaginal suppositories" at the pharmacy because she has always been so skinny due to her career that her menopause has already set in, Mario wins bets because he can lift heavy weights not only with his arms but also with his erect penis.

The book

Anke Stelling: "Caring.". Verbrecher Verlag, Berlin 2017, 200 pages, 19 euros.

All of this is discussed in such a dry way, as if it were not about the description of dysfunctional human bodies, but about the assembly instructions for a textile wardrobe from a Swedish furniture store. At no point is anything said about the motivation of these people. The fact that the two of them come from a part of society that is generally considered to be out of touch is also expressly not meant to be in the foreground – after all, Nadja is a social climber par excellence. So one is prepared for a lot when it comes to what is already announced in the blurb of the book between mother and son.

They use each other

And yet it brutally throws the reader off track: the affair between Nadja and Mario is not adequately described by the word oedipal. She goes beyond the "re-gret-ting motherhood" debate, because this isn’t just about messed up relationships, this is also about complete loss of self. Nadja is a monster, but so is her son. Both use each other as plasticine and as a mirror, which, however, only throws back yawning emptiness.

Anke Stelling has written a book that does one thing above all: It breaks with cherished habits. This author is not about accusing, but to ask: Why is the nuclear family again exaggerated to the only reasonable form of human coexistence? And why does it fail so radically to find a good life outside the nuclear family??

In this novel, Anke Stelling finds no place where people can be happy.

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