Greg Baxter's Novels

There isn’t a great deal to say about The Apartment by Greg Baxter. There isn’t much that happens. The tale takes place in a single day in an unnamed city, during a month of snow and extreme cold. The unnamed American narrator has come there to live for reasons that are somewhat puzzling. “They asked me why I’d come and I said, I didn’t know”

In a museum he meets a woman, Saskia, and together they spend much of the day searching for an apartment for the American. They walk everywhere, sometimes take a bus or subway, meet a friend occasionally, and spend a fair amount of time talking. They speak of Dante, Mozart, artists and writers.

Their relationship for now is a platonic one. We have fallen into a swift intimacy of pure circumstance…Our relationship probably could not bear any conflict at all. The force that stabilizes the intimacy is politeness.

It takes them forever to reach the apartment Saskia has found for him, they wander in and out of cafes, department stores, coffee shops, all the while the unnamed narrator is recalling his days in Iraq, first in the military, then as an independent contractor. We get a hint of the terrible scenes he has witnessed and those he has committed or in which he was implicated.

One might wonder if he has come to this bitterly cold, unknown city to expiate the bloody crimes of that war. It has led him to a hatred of America and all that it stands for and, in turn, a hatred of himself for the crimes he committed while there.

The narrator says it is “the eve of a life that I hoped would represent the entombment of the violence I have witnessed or imposed upon the world.”

Eventually he finds an apartment he likes and continues his wanderings about the city, sometimes alone, sometimes with Saskia, but always ruminating about his past, himself, and a world in which violence is everywhere. And then the novel ends, the same way it begins, without a clear idea about where it is headed or why.

I hate myself today; I hate the whole human race. I am coursing with rage at the thought of every man and woman alive. Greg Baxter

I read Greg Baxter’s A Preparation for Death on the basis of his first novel, The Apartment. Don’t ask me why. This book appears to be a memoir of a few years of Baxter’s life. He moves to Dublin from Texas, then to Vienna, and returns to Texas from time to time to visit his mother. Throughout he wallows in his own misery.

He meets one woman after another, has sex with all of them, wild sex described in detail and ad nauseaum, spends sleepless days and nights drinking. He teaches writing to students he cares little about, tries to write with results that appall him. He is ambivalent about every thought and experience.

I am never content, but I approach contentment through longing, through disappointment.” “…life was meaningless without impact. I believed that I could alter society. How pathetic that seems to me now.” “Sometimes when I remember the unhappiness I felt at twenty-five, I can’t imagine why I didn’t kill myself. I sensed that I was an outcast everywhere. My characters were all exiles, and I hated them.”

On and on this way. The novel is little more than reveling in despair and venom, while worshiping both.

What can I say? I’m a reader. I read novels. Some are better than others. Some days are better than others. That’s life.