Alex has spent the majority of his adult life between two very different women—and he can’t make up his mind. Sonia, his wife and business partner, is everything a man would want. Intelligent, gorgeous, charming, and ambitious, she worked tirelessly alongside him to open their architecture firm and to build a life of luxury. But when the seven-year itch sets in, their exhaustion at working long hours coupled with their failed attempts at starting a family get the best of them. Alex soon finds himself kindling an affair with his college lover, Ivona. The young Polish woman who worked in a Catholic mission is the polar opposite of Sonia: dull, passive, taciturn, and plain. Despite having little in common with Ivona, Alex is inexplicably drawn to her while despising himself for it. Torn between his highbrow marriage and his lowbrow affair, Alex is stuck within a spiraling threesome. But when Ivona becomes pregnant, life takes an unexpected turn, and Alex is puzzled more than ever by the mysteries of his heart.
Peter Stamm, one of Switzerland’s most acclaimed writers, is at his best exploring the complexities of human relationships. Seven Years is a distinct, sobering, and bold novel about the impositions of happiness in the quest for love.
Sonia was the absolute opposite of Ivona. She was lovely and smart and talkative and charming and sure of herself. I always found her presence somewhat intimidating, and I had the feeling of having to try to be better than I actually was. With Ivona, the time went by incredibly slowly, full of painful silences. She gave monosyllabic replies to my questions, and it was a constant struggle to prolong the conversation. Sonia on the other hand was the perfect socialite. She came from a well-off background, and I couldn’t imagine her doing or saying something unconsidered. She was bound to have a successful career. She would find a niche in the design of social housing, and get a seat on various committees, and bring up two or three children at the same time, who would be clean and just as well-behaved and presentable as she was. But Sonia would never say to a man that she loved him, the way that Ivona had said it to me, as if there was no other possibility. Ivona’s declaration had been embarrassing, just like the idea of being seen in public with her, but even so the thought of her love had something ennobling about it. It was as though Ivona was the only person who took me seriously and to whom I really meant something. She was the only woman who saw me as something other than a good-looking kid or a rising young architect. Ever since getting up, I kept having to think of her, and privately I was sure I would have to see her again, if only to free myself from her. She had told me she worked in a Christian bookstore. It couldn’t be all that hard to find her.
Excerpted from Seven Years by Peter Stamm. Copyright © 2011 by Peter Stamm. Excerpted by permission of Other Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
About Peter Stamm
Peter Stamm was born in 1963, in Weinfelden, Switzerland. He is the author of the novel, Agnes (1998), and numerous short stories and radio plays. He lives outside of Zurich.
“Seven Years is a novel to make you doubt your own dogma. What more can a novel do than that?” —Zadie Smith, Harper’s Magazine
“Stamm’s talent is palpable, but what makes him a writer to read, and read often, is the way he renders contemporary life as a series of ruptures. Never entirely sure of their position, his characters engage in a constant effort to establish their equilibrium.” —New York Times Book Review
“Stamm’s cleverness is to align a spareness that works in translation with his characters’ instinctive fear of all things rich and intense. Lean as it is, his prose is wonderfully ‘literary’ in its fine integration of voice and story. The constant disorientation of his characters, their sense that their lives are interchangeable with any number of other lives, seem peculiarly suited to this era of globalization.” —The New York Review of Books
“With a patient and impressive commitment to realism, this Swiss novel follows the course of a complicated, troubled marriage…Though Stamm pulls off a quietly spectacular plot twist halfway through the book, he never loses sight of the quotidian things that erode or transform relationships over time: an oddly personal disagreement about the merits of ‘Rain Man’, or the ‘piles of romance novels, Christian manuals, and Polish magazines’ that crowd a lover’s apartment.”—The New Yorker
“Stamm is a master of quietly deliberative stories. In Seven Years, as in the best of his work, he puts often simple-seeming character through extraordinary paces, all the more remarkable given the Carver-like restraint he exercises in his writing.” —Bookforum
“Seven Years is a powerful, enlightening novel about the eternal search for contentment in life, the often fickle nature of love, and the knowledge that in reality, happiness is rarely how we dreamed it would be.” —The Daily Beast
“Here is Stamm’s strength, in a good English translation, the clean uncluttered sentences that take you—as writers since Hemingway have shown — from one crystalline point to the next, so as to travel great distances in the shortest possible time.” —Buffalo News
“Just the kind of thing I like.”—Lorin Stein, the Paris Review blog
“Ego, passion, and deception run wild, but the novel's strength is found in the characters Stamm has created: powerfully imperfect, sometimes despicable, horribly conflicted, and always believable far beyond the archetypes that too often pop up in novels of marital ennui.” —Publishers Weekly
“Swiss novelist Stamm (Unformed Landscape) offers a classic love triangle that reads like a contemporary European version of Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road… Readers looking for a highbrow page-turner will relish this quick read.” —Library Journal
“This touching novel is a tour of what makes love work and what tears love apart in the modern world.” —Booklist
“A dynamic and taut novel that examines the conflicted heart in the confines of marriage and the perception of what love is.” —ForeWord Reviews
“Seven Years is tense and frightening—I couldn't stop plunging in. Desire is a hunting dog and we never know what it will bring us. This is ruthless truth.” —Rosecrans Baldwin, author of You Lost Me There
“Peter Stamm is not alone to want to expose the tensions within such a constellation, but the construction of his narrative is an undeniable success.” —Le Monde
“The search for love, the pursuit of happiness, the confusion of emotions, Peter Stamm revisits these eternal themes in an original novel that resonates deeply with all of us.” —Elle (France)
“The cumulative emotional impact of this is quietly shattering. How many writers have written with this degree of brutal perceptiveness and wisdom about the indeterminate depths of heterosexual desire? Wharton, Roth (sometimes), James Salter, Kundera. Stamm inscribes his name on that august list” –The Times (UK)
“Seven Years by Peter Stamm, a tale of lust and deceit...has the makings of an existential classic, yet sows mystery without once being opaque – it’s deliciously, deceptively easy to read.” –The Telegraph
“[Seven Years] is cool and immensely accomplished, told retrospectively in a way that seems to flatten suspense…while bringing out the half-tones that shadow even the most apparently clear-cut decisions.” –The Guardian (UK)
“Reading this novel is an experience of creeping realization as a series of small epiphanies build up almost imperceptibly…The novel’s cumulative effect is highly unsettling, its concluding moments are breathtaking, and the ripples that it sets in motion radiate in the reader’s mind long after the novel’s conversation has ended.” –Charlotte Ryland, Times Literary Supplement
“Peter Stamm, one of Switzerland's most acclaimed writers, is at his best exploring the complexities of human relationships.” –The Omnivore (UK)
“Stamm has a fine sense of the pregnant moment which signals things falling apart. By the time you get to the twist at the end, you want to start again.” –More Intelligent Life (The Economist Magazine)