A Modern Way to Die
First published in 1991, and now issued in a second edition, comprising short short fictions, most written in the Eighties, A Modern Way to Die, by Peter Wortsman “predates the in-vogue term flash fiction, but it's surely one of the cornerstones of the tradition,” (according to short form pioneer Peter Cherches). As Wortsman notes in the book’s original foreword, these texts appeared “in the absence of big things to say […] guided only by the precarious optimism of the pen.” Conceived as a disjointed compendium of narrative treatments of life’s common denominator, death, the book’s spare hit and run aesthetic gravitates from enhanced neon hyperrealist reportage to nightmare parable to plummet the surreal substrata of the American Dream.
The late prose poet Russell Edson characterized these eccentric narratives: “It’s refreshing to come on Peter Wortsman’s pieces. They read like dreams…with the penetrating logic found in dreams. …Most of us are better storytellers at night than in the light of day. But, somehow, Peter Wortsman, in the light of day, seems able to connect the power of the dream narrative to conscious language to create unique works that walk a curious line between fiction and poetry.”
“The only effective method I have found for temporarily immobilizing (if not obliterating) time is to take pleasure in its passing,” Wortsman writes in a text titled “How to Kill Time.” And he concludes in the afterword: “Death resumes where birth left off, but the living must still plod along, invent a destiny.” As Geoffrey Chaucer, Giovanni Boccaccio and storytellers worth their salt since time immemorial have fathomed, our only option is to make merry and keep ourselves entertained along the way until the sound track goes silent.
Dubbed “a 20th-century Brother Grimm” (Bloomsbury Review) and “a delinquent Hans Christian Andersen” (by playwright Mark O’Donnell), Peter Wortsman is the author of three books of short fiction, including a previous edition of A Modern Way To Die (1991), Footprints in Wet Cement (2017), and Stimme und Atem/ Out of Breath, Out of Mind (2019), a bilingual German-English collection of stories; a travel memoir, Ghost Dance in Berlin, A Rhapsody in Gray (2013); and a novel, Cold Earth Wanderers (2014).