Familiar isolation breeds contempt
By Kimberly Richardson
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It has always been the saying that misery loves company. When people are immersed in their own pain, they seek out other people, consciously or subconsciously, who are hurting and who can possibly share in their misery party without actually doing anything about removing it. The two main characters from Ann Winger’s first book, This Must Be The Place, engage in this ritual, but their lives are forever changed because of it. In a corner of Berlin, Germany resides Walter, a former German teen actor who left his career during its peak to move to California and Disney, only to return with his tail between his legs and to become the dubbed voice for Tom Cruise. He desperately holds onto scraps of his former life for it is all that keeps him going and yet keeps him stuck, preventing him from any kind of advancement. He is everyone, and he is no one, going so far as to blend into his apartment after his much younger lover (and better actress) leaves him. However, it is during one day that he is intrigued by a young man and woman fighting outside of his apartment complex. The couple turns out to be Americans Dave and Hope, who recently moved to Berlin due to a job offer for Dave, the recent destruction of 9/11, and Hope’s failed pregnancy.
Hope is a young woman struggling to find her own sense of worth in Berlin, but she is afraid to do so. She has no friends, and her only outlet is her German language class, in which the other students consistently avoid her. Her husband is a chipper and frightfully optimistic man who travels to Poland for long periods of time for his job (pornography), not fully understanding his own wife and giving her what she needs. It is fate, then, that the two sources of desolation finally meet and compare notes on just who is worse off, later realizing that neither of them truly are; they just refuse to let go of their emotional baggage, and that is what makes them so real in the book.
I will admit that I had never heard of Winger until by accident while I visited Sherlock’s Bookstore in Lebanon, Tennessee for a book signing event that I was part of. I am glad that I found this book, for now I realize that there are still some damn good authors out there, ones who can tell such a simple story with such depth and detail that one feels they are truly there with the characters. I felt I was there with Hope as she carefully peeled away layers of the wallpaper in her apartment, revealing a treasure both on the walls and within herself. Winger makes the readers want the best for Walter and know that life is not truly at its depressing end for him even though he refuses to stop looking back, not only at his acting career but his problematic family past as well. There is restlessness in both Hope and Walter; there is unfinished business revealed through their friendship, and it is understood that it needed to be completed. It is necessary for Hope and Walter to meet, for each one provides the mirror to reflect on the other person’s life followed with the question of, “Just what in the hell are you doing?” The reflections portrayed are not pretty, but they are honest and enough of a catalyst to divert and change what is sorely lacking in Hope and Walter’s lives. Winger’s writing style is simple, a bit like Hemingway, and yet she has her own voice within these pages, a voice that gave such life to two characters that sorely needed to evaluate and change their own.