‘The Married Couple’ by Franz Kafka

The Married Couple by Franz Kafka, 1922

The magic trick:

Giving us a narrator with social skills so surreally bad they might be called Kafka-esque

We’re off to Austria this week.

And this being Kafka, you might be reading in expectation of something wildly surreal. You won’t get any cockroaches or magic bouncing balls. Instead, you get a narrator whose social skills are surrealistically poor.

So obsessed by his selfish business concerns, he completely disregards a client’s family health crisis. It’s not that he’s completely oblivious. He notices only enough to worry that the crisis might negatively affect his business prospects.

The narrator, seemingly on the lookout for the surreal just as the reader is, interprets the wife’s standard act of kindness toward her husband as something akin to otherworldly magic. It’s the perfect comic finish.

And that’s quite a trick on Kafka’s part.

The selection:

Now at last, it seemed to me, my moment had come, or rather it had not come and probably would never come; yet if I was to attempt anything it must be done at once, for I felt that here the conditions for a business interview could only become increasingly unfavorable; and to plant myself down here for all time, as the agent apparently intended, was not my way: besides, I did not want to take the slightest notice of him. So I began without ceremony to state my business, although I saw that N. would have liked at that moment to have a chat with his son. Unfortunately I have a habit when I have worked myself up — and that takes a very short time, and on this occasion took a shorter time than usual — of getting up and walking about while I am talking. Though a very good arrangement in one’s own office, in a strange house it may be somewhat burdensome. But I could not restrain myself, particularly as I was feeling the lack of my usual cigarette. Well, every man has his bad habits, yet I can congratulate myself on mine when I think of the agent’s.

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