Monday, August 24, 2009

Crossing the Hudson by Peter Stephan Jungk (a review)

Crossing the Hudson
3.5 out of 5: Crossing the Hudson, written by Peter Stephan Jungk and admirably translated from the German by David Dollenmayer, is a philosophical novel exploring the relationship between parents and their children. On his way to join his wife and two children at their vacation home on Lake Gilead just outside of New York City, Gustav Rubin is delayed when his international flight makes an unscheduled overnight stop in Iceland for engine trouble. Exhausted and frustrated, he finally arrives at John F. Kennedy International Airport to reunite with his mother, who lives in an apartment on Central Park West and is joining Gustav’s family at the lake. The pair heads towards Lake Gilead in a rental car, only to be trapped for hours in a monumental traffic jam on the Tappan Zee Bridge, which crosses the Hudson River at one of its widest points.

What follows is a dreamy meditation about the lasting effect of Gustav's parents on his sensitive and impressionable personality. The bridge gives Gustav “the feeling of being transported into a floating, dreamlike state.” As if in a dream, Gustav scrolls through memories of his recently deceased father Ludwig, and he and his mother share a strange hallucination (or is it real?) demonstrating Ludwig's continuing power over his family. Gustav recognizes that, over the course of his adult life, “the foundation of his existence remained Father and Mother.” Gustav’s vital father has sapped his self-assurance and his energy:
Father’s fantastic, everlasting capacity for hope, his unbearable kindness, completely robbed his son of confidence. Ludwig’s immense productivity often rendered Gustav powerless. The more enterprising the father, the quieter and more worn out the son.
Gustav's vapidity and his mother's overbearing personality were constant annoyances, as was the plot contrivance of a seemingly endless traffic jam. Fortunately, a healthy amount of humor makes the hours spent on the bridge bearable. Crossing the Hudson is an interesting, if not altogether pleasant, examination of the power of parents over their children.


Zibilee said...

This sounds like a really deep read. I liked your review on this one, concise, yet penetrating.

psj said...

i agree with you! (and i'm the author...)

yours peter stephan jungk