Excerpt from The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures by Jennifer Hofmann, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures

by Jennifer Hofmann

The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures by Jennifer Hofmann X
The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures by Jennifer Hofmann
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    Aug 2020, 272 pages

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Lisa Butts
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1
1.1

Something must have happened. Bernd Zeiger had snored himself awake and did not know where he was. A wedge of light on the ceiling caught his eye. He followed its journey as it stretched and narrowed until the car from which it came disappeared down the road. Darkness returned to the bedroom like a calamity.

It was November, strong westerly winds and a drizzle. He strained his eyes into the shadows. A wooden dresser loomed next to his bed, dark and wide like the hull of a ship. A nightstand held up a clock and a tall glass of water. He looked at his things as if they were not his things, as if someone had entered and exchanged all his things for replicas of the things he should know. Lara, he remembered, was gone.

The wheezing nozzle of a cleaning vehicle approached along the cobblestone street. It hummed and rattled as it suctioned debris from the road. Loose newspaper pages, wet leaves, abandoned tin toys, umbrella skeletons, the bloated bodies of rats. Small-scale pandemonium. Zeiger pictured the driver as neckless and mustached, a sadist. Street cleaning arrived at 4:30, the loneliest hour. Beyond the receding noise of the vehicle the murmur of morning traffic echoed along Torstrasse. People driving to work, others returning from night shifts.

Zeiger's legs were caught in a complicated knot of sheets, his pajamas twisted almost entirely the wrong way around. A hand was clasping the edge of a pillow, his own. These were his things. Dresser, nightstand, pajama, pillow. The ancient, indisputable objects of his life.

The alarm clock pierced a hole in the darkness. He slapped at it like he would at a gnat. It was more than two hours earlier than his usual time, but anticipation had outraced his alarm. A thump in the apartment next door announced Schreibmüller, his neighbor, a blind man who refused government aid like walking sticks or guide dogs and navigated spaces by bumping through them instead. There was the choppy rhythm of another language, Ukrainian perhaps. Despite his disability, Schreibmüller seemed to be surrounded by a harem of women and preferred, as far as Zeiger had learned from stairwell encounters over the last decades, Eastern types with sharp cheekbones and porcine eyes. He had considered asking Schreibmüller how, logistically speaking, a blind man could determine a type, but the occasion for it had never materialized. The world threw mysteries at him in passing.

At sixty, moving into an upright position in the morning felt like an unconquerable task. There was an indentation in his mattress from many years of sleeping and it enveloped the loose meat of his body like the arms of a wife. If you wake at this age without pain, you're dead, an elderly woman had told someone in line at the Konsum. He had found that insightful. A lull in her voice suggested she longed for the latter state.

Management had assured him he would be finished at Hohenschönhausen jail by eight o'clock. The time he would, on normal days, go for cheese toast and milk coffee at the corner café, to see Lara, the waitress. He would keep his regular routine despite an irregular start to the day. That was a comfort, even if Lara had vanished several weeks ago.

A roar like that of an ailing beast echoed from the street. He stretched out an arm and yanked the cord of his nightstand lamp. Light replaced darkness; after street cleaning came trash collection. There was an order to things. Above the sound of the truck, garbage men hollered to one another, shouting combatively. Zeiger rolled toward the nightstand, gaped into the dusty light. He dropped his legs off the side of the bed. His feet found his slippers, gravity popped his bones into position. He rested his forearms on his knees, letting the folds of his body expand. Then he plucked his bathrobe from the hook by the nightstand and draped it over his shoulders. It took a moment to absorb the heat of his body.

Excerpted from The Standardization of Demoralization Procedures by Jennifer Hofmann. Copyright © 2020 by Jennifer Hofmann. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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