In her preface to Robert Walser’s Selected Stories, Susan Sontag describes Walser as “a good-humored, sweet Beckett.” The more common comparison is to “a comic Kafka.” Both formulations effectively describe the reading experience in these stories: the reader is obviously in the presence of a mind-bending genius, but one characterized by a wry, buoyant voice, as apparently cheerful as it is disturbing.
Walser is one of the twentieth century’s great modern masters—revered by everyone from Walter Benjamin to Hermann Hesse to W. G. Sebald—and Selected Stories gives the fullest display of his talent. “He is most at home in the mode of short fiction,” according to J. M. Coetzee in The New York Review of Books. The stories “show him at his dazzling best.”
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Robert Walser was born in Switzerland in 1878. He wrote nine novels and hundreds of stories before being hospitalized for mental illness in 1933. He died in 1956.