Yesterday I read and finished the short novel Steps, which had been recommended to me specifically because it is composed entirely of short vignettes. What I didn’t know at the time was that Steps, which was published in 1968, won the National Book Award for Fiction, and that its author, Jerzy Kosinski, was a Polish Jew whose family survived the Holocaust by posing as Catholics with the help of sympathetic local villagers in central Poland. Like Primo Levi, he also committed suicide later in life.
The vignettes in Steps are anchored by an extremely uncomfortable and disturbing eroticism. The prose is elegantly terse. Details of character and plot are obfuscated by the allegories of the individual vignettes, but the narrative arc does at times become more distinct. The book left me feeling disturbed, confused, and thoughtful. It’s quietly poetic without being indulgently lyrical.
Oddly, as a coincidence of sequence, in my mind Kosinksi’s unyielding depiction of amoral sexuality and intimacy as power is an even starker than it might otherwise be. Because last week I read Veronica Roth’s completely unrelated Divergent series, an about-to-be-a-huge-movie YA dystopian [romance] trilogy. In Roth’s series, every plot point is punctuated by breathless descriptions of heavy petting. Innocent, if dangerously co-dependent, one-in-a-lifetime “true” love.
If a young adult romance is predicated on an idealized version of what we want love to be or think love is, then I’m not sure exactly how to describe Kosinski’s counterpoint.