Sunday, December 14, 2008

Andrew Steinmetz

Andrew Steinmetz's new book, Eva's Threepenny Theatre (Gaspereau, 2008), tells the story of his great-aunt, who appeared in the workshop version of Brecht's "Threepenny Opera" in the 1930s, before fleeing the Nazis.

A mixture of fiction and memoir, Steinmetz's "novel" explores the intersection of history, family, identify and artistic creation.

See also Steinmetz's website [] and an interview I recently conducted with the author.

The title implies that Eva's life can be best understood through a Brechtian lens. The following quote from Wikipedia might help explain that point:

Collective and collaborative working methods were inherent to Brecht's approach, as Fredric Jameson (among others) stresses. Jameson describes the creator of the work not as Brecht the individual, but rather as 'Brecht': a collective subject that "certainly seemed to have a distinctive style (the one we now call 'Brechtian') but was no longer personal in the bourgeois or individualistic sense."
As Steinmetz ably illustrates, through interviews with Eva and fictional reconstructions of different eras of her life (of which there were many), "Eva" was reborn as a character on many different stages. Her identify was shaped, influenced and manipulated by multiple strong personalities: from her father and brother, to Brecht, to her husband and lovers, to Hitler.

Who was Eva? This novel lovingly explores that question. It is the depth and quality of the exploration (not any implied answer) which makes this book a rewarding (but not easy) read.

It is conventional, in this Oprah-heightened reading enviornment, for memoirs to be powered by redemptive themes. James Frey's A Million Little Pieces may be the best known example. A criminal and drug addict, Frey turned his life around and wrote about it, but like Farley Mowat he didn't like the facts interfere with a good story. Or a good commercial theme, more to the point.

Eva's Three Penny Theatre doesn't explore redemption. It is a better book because it avoids this Christian, post-Freudiean cliche. Television talk shows may "make good TV" by providing simple solutions ("conflicts wrapped up with a bow in 24 minutes or less!"), but literature serves itself best when it avoids this commercial imperative.

I am tempted to write that literature should complicate simplicities, but then ... isn't that a simplicity?

What I do know, is that Steinmetz's exploration of his family's history, and the way he has chosen to frame those stories, reveals a depth of humanity that would have failed to come through if he'd sought the simple theme: all's well that ends well.

There are loose ends in this book. There are narrative fragments that fit poorly with others. But the whole is strong ... and stronger because of these discontinuities.

Eva lives! Long live Eva!

1 comment:

Lemon Hound said...

Thanks for posting. I'm intrigued.