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The St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poems
The St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poems
The St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poemsThe St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poemsThe St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poems
The St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poems
Anxious Pleasures: A Novel After Kafka
By Lance Olsen

Shoemaker & Hoard, 2007

Reviewed by Angela Ambrosini-Haliski
Lance Olsen, author of Anxious Pleasures: A Novel After Kafka, has reinvented the tale of Franz Kafka’s, The Metamorphosis. 

The Metamorphosis tells the story of Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman, who awakens in his discomfited, human-sized bedroom as an insect with a disfigured body consisting of numerous, deplorable legs. Olsen takes Kafka’s tale and re-imagines it through the eyes of the voiceless characters that first emerged in The Metamorphosis, during the discovery of Samsa’s transformation.

The characters that Olsen introduces in Anxious Pleasures are Samsa’s sister Grete and her suitor, his parents, the chief clerk, the servant girl, the cook, the charwoman, a cashier, the neighbor downstairs, three lodgers and Margaret, a young shoe clerk in England who is reading The Metamorphosis for the first time.


Paying close attention to detail, Olsen shows us how the characters are transformed by exploring unwanted imperfections, and how they project these imperfections on the outside world. In a moment of despair, Grete muses, “The rainy morning makes our flat seem as if it has somehow fallen out of alignment." At another point in the story, Gregor's father muses, “The morning glides by, punt down a river, and, before you know it, you are occupying afternoon light. What is the passage of minutes for, half a decade into retirement, if not to relish the world like this? Youth burns itself up believing there’s no end to time, but blind boys shouldn’t judge colors.”

Olsen follows Kafka's writing style, employing overflowing sentences that sometimes go on for more than a page. In German, the verb is placed at the very end of such a sentence. Although Olsen writes in English, his swollen, breathless sentences have a Kafka-esque power. 

To read both The Metamorphosis and Anxious Pleasures is to experience two works of genius. The genealogy of literature is often a tangle of references and influences. Olsen offers a unique novel, one that is a direct descendant of a classic.

Lance Olsen is is author of Rebel Yell: A Guide to Fiction Writing and Nietzsche's Kisses as well as many other short story collections and prose.