A Perfect Waiter
Alain Claude Sulzer
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Buy *A Perfect Waiter* by Alain Claude Sulzer online

A Perfect Waiter
Alain Claude Sulzer
Bloomsbury USA
224 pages
April 2008
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Deeply reminiscent of the works of E.M. Forster, even Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, the central protagonist of A Perfect Waiter plays out his ageless love affair with doomed, even operatic grandeur on a stage of isolation and loneliness as he remembers his time with Jakob Meier, a man who was his best and dearest friend thirty years ago, back in the summer of 1935.

With a soul touched by ice, "frozen and terrified, " Erneste's solitary life is shaken out of a slumber when he receives a letter from Jakob from New York. There's a hint of financial problems, and as the words fracture and splinter upon the page, Erneste realizes that after all these years, Jakob seems to be begging his friend for help.

For sixteen years, the shadow-like Erneste has gone through life working as a waiter at the Restaurant am Berg. Considered the most dependable member of an ever-changing staff, he's never taken a sick day and never asked for time off. Now Jakob's letter suddenly unleashes Erneste's furtive yearnings, making him relive the weight of loss and the hurtful way that the beautiful Jakob abandoned him for America.

The past has been locked away in his abundant recollections, "like something inside a dark closet," like a precious commodity, but now Erneste's thoughts have begun to stray constantly with a secret that he is unable or unwilling to share with anyone else: "like a hand reaching for him, its pressure is neither heavy nor light."

Even the photos he kept of Jakob are out of reach, as remote as Jakob's breath, even more remote than the memories of their time together at Giessbach in 1935, when the young German trainee waiter came from Cologne for a spell of employment in Switzerland in order to avoid being drafted into the Wehrmacht.

Buoyed along by his desires and need to care for the boy, Erneste shows him everything a waiter needs to know as he battles with his illicit desires. It isn't long before they are spending nights making love in Erneste's cramped attic room, their secretive couplings by the shores of the lake only fuelling Erneste's yearnings for the nights to come and his longings for ever more physical contact with his young muse.

In a world where passion becomes a dangerous slaveholder, Erneste never anticipates such an unexpected end. Still, he harbors a strange presentiment, a vague sense of something incomprehensible that lurks behind his excitement in the form of a threat that risks derailing the happiness and joy surging through him.

There are two points of view in this novel: Erneste's depictions of Jakob as a glamorous youngster, who knew how to make the most of his looks and was possessed of a physical beauty that seemed self-perpetuating; and that of the famous writer Julius Klinger, man whose sole connection with Erneste was in blighting his insignificant life over thirty years earlier.

As the events move between the summer of 1935 and 1966, Erneste finds himself caught between an outward calm and an explosion of emotion bursting inside of him, the message these letters bring too much for him to contemplate. Inevitably asked to be a go-between, Erneste even flirts with blackmail, his actions a testament to the enduring power of his love for Jakob.

Although the author's themes of lost love and misunderstood desire may at first appear to be bleak, his novel is also infused with a great beauty. For a short time at least, Erneste's life is filled with all the possibilities that first love can offer. The passing years have not impaired the clarity of his memories which reappear as fresh and as potent as ever, his love for his young friend enduring despite the obvious obstacles and the inevitable passage of time.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Michael Leonard, 2008

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