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IN BRIEF

Fiction

May 12, 1991|Michael Harris

WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME? by Doris Dorrie , translated from the German by John E. Woods (Alfred A. Knopf: $19; 154 pp.) . The great-grandfather of minimalism, Ernest Hemingway, used to say that the things a writer left out of a story still contributed to its impact if the writer had truly experienced them; that their cut-off roots were still entangled with the things he left in.

This may explain some of our problems with these 16 lean-cuisine stories by Doris Dorrie, a West German writer ("Love, Pain and the Whole Damn Thing") and film maker ("Men. . ."). Most of the stories are set in Germany, and we lack the cultural background to supply what's been left out. Two are set in Los Angeles, and in this case, we aren't sure Dorrie herself could fill in the gaps between the palm trees and the cocaine.

Another problem is pacing. These stories--about women who discover that men have betrayed them, about women so fastidious that even good men repel them, about women so lonely that they find something attractive even in strange men who follow them home--can be read fast, so we tend to read them that way. But to yield up what meaning they have, they must be digested slowly, with a pause after each terse, declarative sentence.

Finally, given the Angst of the subject matter, it takes us a while to realize that Dorrie is a satirist, with a wit so dry it almost evaporates in English. The two stories with the most bite both involve Americans. In one, an embarrassed German woman takes her Jewish boyfriend back home, where airline pilots talk like movie villains, pretty towns hide memorials to concentration camps and her parents are old enough to have been Nazis. In the other, a German woman crashes a Hollywood party with a self-styled producer from Venice. She thinks "snow" is something you ski on, but she has a quick and deadly ear for the Esperanto of sex and power.

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