Rhenish Literature Award
The Substitute Goalie
216pp (41,400 words)
English sample translation (pdf)
read another extract
A professional footballer resigns himself to being only a reserve. A married man simulates the break-up of his marriage, a rock fan half-heartedly goes in search of his old idol. And a would-be murderer of tyrants, prepared to go to any lengths, waits on for a suitable victim.
Burkhard Spinnen’s heroes are men who have come to terms with a middling way of life: middling careers, middling success, middling malaise, and experiencing middle age. But step just a little to the side and that middling measure takes on the shape of mediocrity, and that is truly unbearable. And thus any little upset, be it a surprise anniversary or a harmless white lie, threatens to unleash untold catastrophe. The middle road is, and remains, the most dangerous of all.
Soon they are forced to make the painful realisation of how deeply embedded in their bones their past life of milk and honey is.
With precision, focused concentration yet also with eyebrows raised and coupled with his own brand of intricate humour, Spinnen narrates on two fronts simultaneously: stories of some rather average oddballs – and on the late confrontation of the sense of security particular to the old federal republic with the fact that from mid-life at the latest the going can be tough.
Previously published (rights reverted)
The Netherlands – Vrij Nederland (first serial)
paperback - Random House/btb
»The average provides the arena for the sensational, for the zero-sum game of existential errors, the drama at the centre of the skillfully staged mediocrity. Burkhard Spinnen is its master.«
»24 stories, the one more entertaining than the other. Individual fates that other writers would have elaborated on for the course of entire novels, are condensed into a few pages. Spinnen concentrates on the true essence of his stories, thereby discovering the blank spaces within our everyday routine.«
Frankfurter Neue Presse
»Like a cool stream of narration, dragging the reader along. Brilliant observer Burkhard Spinnen manages to reveal an entire human existence through the seemingly unimportant banalities of life – psychological portraits of almost frightening clarity.«
»Most striking about Spinnen’s prose is his economy of language. Effortlessly he enters the middle of the action, quick and precisely he sets the coordinates for a story.«
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
»Burkhard Spinnen, this exceptionally gifted observer of everyday life, confronts the ordinary German male with the trivial catastrophies of life, in order to find out if they have the guts to face them. The result is predominantly funny – with a bittersweet aftertaste.«
Reviews from abroad
»To savour slowly...This writer is not breaking taboos in what happens to his heroes, but in the brazen-faced way in which these ›heroes‹ use situations to their advantage.«
»Midlife crisis has never been more bewildering than this. The stories in this collection show what happens when things start to go off course (...) As the title one of the stories has it, these are ›storms in the watercup‹: private dramas in ordinary circumstances, spectacularly unspectacular affairs (...) The Reserve Goalkeeper reveals how it is to be middle-aged and middling, showing the extraordinary things that happen to ordinary lives. And in as little as three pages Spinnen can tell a tale that is at once funny, moving and absorbing. His intelligent, off-beat stories are practically perfect, and they leave you wanting more.«
New Books in German