“Munich Airport” by Greg Baxter. Twelve, 2014. $25.
Greg Baxter’s (“The Apartment”) latest book is a revelation in subtlety.
Unlike his last, the LSU graduate’s latest book has a place, but it shares his previous book’s precise, profound prose. In “Munich Airport,” a middle-aged, unnamed man and his father collect the body of his deceased younger sister from her apartment in Munich and prepare to bring it back to his Gulf Coast hometown.
It’s set in the long morning spent waiting for their outbound flight, delayed by a thick fog, in the Munich airport. But Baxter shifts smoothly back and forth in time, mostly during the past few weeks they’ve spent in Germany but sometimes moving back to childhood. Each movement peels back a thin layer of the story, of identity. The exquisitely human characters are revealed in a tantalizing story that is, in equal measure, truth, lunacy, melancholy and wholly ordinary in a way that, at one point or another, we’re all like someone in this book, whether we like it or not.
Whereas “The Apartment” explored relationships in terms of space, “Munich Airport” does it with time. Each character — the historian father, the marketing consultant son, the ambitious diplomat — have their own distinct relationships with time, and an airport fraught with weather delays is the perfect setting to explore them in.
The narrator, with whom we become most familiar, sits in the isolation of the present.
He is comfortable on the outside, eschewing full-time employment for consultancy, seemingly unaffected by the breakdown of his marriage, happy wrapped in the fog and in the anonymity of city life.
“So I got a seat in an empty car, by the window, and as we started to move I felt a rapturous, sad relief that I was starting over, from that moment, that I had come to Europe for this reason,” the narrator recalls of the end of an affair — another attachment, “to feel as though I had been born without a past, that I had come from nowhere and knew nobody, there was nobody to tell good news or bad news, there was no reason to behave one way or another.”
These are complicated relationships. They need thinking. Passages need rereading, especially in light of later passages. The narrator keeps a notebook alongside him when he reads; it’s not a bad idea. But it’s worth it. Baxter has written another profound yet immensely relatable book.
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