It had all been so easy in Cracow. Well, not entirely. The stout Jewish young man from Microsoft whom she had visited there was in love with her, but she didn’t feel the same about him. She was in love with Itai, but he didn’t feel the same about her. He knew that he was not in love with her, but she didn’t know it, so she’d said come and see me in Ljubljana sometime soon, it will be lovely. It will be lovely, he thought ten times a day before he set off. When he saw her in Ljubljana at the airport he thought, No, it won’t.
—Maxim Biller, 80 Centimeters of Bad Temper
(As a personal interjection, please don’t let this story dissuade you from traveling to European cities to meet dates. When I was single I preferred staging first dates in the Old World; the chemistry might not be right, but on the bright side, you’re in Paris, instead of stuck out in Brooklyn.)
Maxim Biller’s stories have been compiled into an austere-looking hardback collection called by the sprightly and opaque title Love Today. I’m reading the stories (there are 27 of them, most no more than six pages), and thinking that somehow the word “Grumpy” should have been shoehorned in that title somewhere. “Grumpy Love, Today,” perhaps, or “Love? Today, Grumpy.” This story’s title (the measurement refers to the width of the woman’s bed) is probably the most accurate in the whole collection.
The characters are always on the move from one place to another, inhabiting temporary roles in the sturdy cities of central Europe. This is the kind of book that has tram tracks running through its pages. The quoted story I like for its simple, straightforward nature that doesn’t rely on awkward tricks or character traits to be told. This guy, Itai, comes to Ljubljana to meet up with this woman, and just like that, it doesn’t work out. Dommage. J’en suis desolé. It’s not me, it’s you.
What redeems Itai from the ordinary strain of grumblecore characters (grumblecorporals?) is his optimism. He was genuinely hoping that he would fall in love in Ljubljana. The sudden clarity of mind he displays in the quoted passage is perhaps his realist streak coming out: the woman’s too-narrow bed just makes his plight more obvious.