the peaks are covered with snowwhy is this one bare?"
In Zen Buddhism, this illustrates a popular and a mysterious
kind of riddle called koan,
which cannot be comprehended
by a logical thought. To understand a koan
, one has to approach
the subject matter from a different viewpoint, focus
and identify the crux, grasp the hidden meaning, follow sequentially
and only then attempt an answer. But perceptions differ from one
individual to another, making it impossible for a koan
have a fixed, ready-made solution. In a way, we can say that a koan
remains a sweet mystery and must be sofor it is this air unpredictability
that makes the form all the more curious and appealing.
an anthology of short stories by Michael
Hoffman, is koan-
in outlook. Some stories contain
intricate settings, most offer interesting and obscure clues and
none present a clear ending. Mr. Hoffman takes extraordinary care
to hide details from the reader. In "Haruki," a young girl charges
an innocent and respectable professor, Jonathan Hardy, with assault
and then forgets the incident. Jonathan, however, carries the accusations
in his heart and watches his innocence drift away. In "Solitude,"
a long short story, Solomon Rose accomplishes his 'task' by murdering
a person after fifteen years. In "Beauty," an exquisite and memorable
short work that was my favorite of the collection, Barry Dorn involves
himself in a lengthy investigation to solve the slight mystery of
why his fiancée screamed in a restaurant.
What motive could
lay behind the slaughter of a harmless stranger? Why should an honest
man suspect his wife of adultery after fifteen years of satisfactory
married life? The Empty Café
offers unimaginable keys
to these and other questions. A cursory reading leads suggests that
most of the stories hang in the air, and lack what fiction should
never lack: an ending. Later, however, the reader realizes that
the plots are constructed as puzzle pieces. Mr. Hoffmans objective
is to invite the participation of the readers, to encourage them
to compile the scattered parts and uncover those that remain hidden
on their own. It is precisely this aspect of self-discovery that
gives a special individuality to this work.
story is effortlessly narrated, though the evident simplicity of
the storytelling belies hidden complexity. Mr. Hoffman takes up
diverse themes and crafts his work intelligently. Some characters
have stepped quietly out of the pages of Freud and Dostoyevsky;
others may live next door.
author's style reminds one of a veteran painters brushstrokes:
fascinating, simple, yet thoughtful. Mr. Hoffmans café
offers everything you should expect from an excellent collection
of storieseverything, that is, except emptiness.