Day job workers share in common evenings. Time off, free time, leisure time, time-wasting, occupy the evenings. What to do? The question often haunts office and factory workers (workers clutching daytimer calendars are bothered by another version of the question). The evening absorbs the question of what to do like a fountain swallows wish thrown coins. The equity of time off beggars everyone. Free time hours can’t be saved, must be spent. On what?
Frits van Egters, the main character of Gerard Reve’s “The Evenings” (first published in Dutch in 1947), works an office day job he considers so boring he barely mentions it. His attention is focused on his evenings, how they might be spent, how they pass, what he might do with his free time, and what he does do. Frits lives with his parents when in December of 1946 we are invited to spend his evenings with him as they pass from around Christmas thru the new year. He talks to himself, has bad dreams, tells horrible jokes, thinks about the evening hours passing, goes out and about, visits friends, is condescending toward his parents, alienated, sarcastic, cynical. It’s freezing outside. Inside there’s the coal stove, a radio with a classical music and a news station, books, food, his bedroom. One night he goes out and drinks too much and gets sick. By the next evening he’s recovered enough to be able to go out again. He sees a film, rides a tram, crosses canals, walks along a river. He owns a bicycle, but it breaks.
The layout is dense, the dialog embedded in paragraphs, and the book is meant to pass as slow as an evening might, and to mean the same thing, which is nothing, which is to say, everything. Often, Fritz’s thoughts during a conversation are spoken to himself and interwoven with what he actually says and hears. His dreams are related in a similar way, so that the reader may not immediately realize when a dream, or the memory of a dream, has begun or ended. The writing is clear, though, the descriptions appealing to every sense. The home meals, the food, for example, are described with local, specific detail – texture, smell, look, feel, taste. You can even hear the meal cooking, eaten. The clothes, weather, walks also all described with realistic detail, a pleasure to read. There is no television, no devices to distract or synch. “The Evenings” is a book, a perfect way to pass an evening.
The Evenings: A Winter’s Tale, Gerard Reve, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett, Pushkin Press, London, 2016.