Short Letter, Long Farewell tells the story of a young Austrian--evidently modeled on the author--on a month's journey across the United States. The book opens in Providence, where a letter awaits the un-named narrator from his estranged wife, Judith. "I am in New York," it says. "Please don't look for me. It would not be nice for you to find me." As the novel proceeds, however, it gradually becomes clear that Judith is pursuing him, not vice versa--pursuing with the intent to kill. He spends a day in New York, then goes on to Philadelphia, where he joins an old flame and her daughter. The trio drives to St. Louis, still shadowed by Judith; partly to escape her (and partly to face her), the narrator strikes out west on his own, to Tucson, where he is robbed by Judith's agents, then up to the Oregon coast, where a roadside showdown takes place and a gunshot echoes over the Pacific.
"I seem to have been born for horror and fear," Handke's narrator confesses. As the narrator and Judith maneuver toward their coastal rendezvous, his life itself may depend on whether he has achieved enough--in the flesh and in the mind--to confront the pistol trembling in her hand.