The Last Book I Loved: The Feverhead


The Feverhead by Wolfgang Bauer is unsurprisingly and unfortunately out of print. As of tonight (October 27, 2009), you can find used copies on Amazon for $7.41.

One of the novel’s characters is called Captain Ox: he is a single man divided between two bodies, three eyes, and exactly 3.5 meters. Neither of him bears resemblance to himself—or the other? I’ll allow that he may be a symbol, but what explanation is there for the scene in which one of him is kidnapped by monks (at the instigation of a transvestite nun) while both of him is entering a brothel?

Frank and Heinz, whose epistolary relationship constitutes the novel, belong in the pantheon of literary idiots of which Bouvard and Pecuchet are the presiding savants. One might extend that pantheon to the cinema (I use the term lightly) and say that these two are a rough equivalent of Harry and Lloyd, minus the decapitated parrot.

Frank and Heinz’s letters, by the way, always cross. Always.

Within their letters are contained secondary and tertiary letters. Frank in particular, often hands his pen over to a self-professed poet, Alex. One of Alex’s poems, called “Rio,” follows:

Firewhisk of the earth
Shimmering mulatto pupils
Eucalyptus tree
Asphalt street
Sugar loaf
Tropical-gray sky
People drinking Moet
I am a poet!

Essentially, The Feverhead is mystery—several, actually. Why (and how) does a being (or beings) named ULF sign each letter? Is Heinz’s daughter Karin about to fall prey to an alpine serial killer who has evaded detection for several years? What is it that seems to be guiding Frank and Heinz both – independently of each other – to Brazil? Is the twist at the end of the novel brilliant or insane?

And, really: what’s with the thermometer?

The Feverhead begins innocently enough (“Dear Heinz, Three days ago I saw a gent crossing the street.”) but quickly contorts itself into the kind of absurdity that sets its teeth into pretention, meaning, and possibly sanity itself. For example: Heinz visits an amateur detective, Sylvius Emel-Berger, in the hope of finding an ally to help extricate his daughter from the clutches of the aforementioned alpine serial killer, only to end up playing a series of billiards matches—and losing badly (1003-4, as Sylvius reports).

What this says about (a) amateur detectives, (b) billiards, or (c) Sylvius Emil-Berger’s scorekeeping is for you to figure out.

I’m a promiscuous lover of books. I treat each one as if it’s the only—there will never be another after, there were none before. This is the last book I read and the last book I loved.

Stephen Sparks is currently stranded in eastern Illinois, doing a fellowship at Dalkey Archive Press. Previously, Stephen was a literature buyer at Green Apple Books in San Francisco. More from this author →