Who we are and what we are depends on how honest we choose to be. At least that’s how my character Jürgen Heuer (pronounced ‘lawyer’) likes to play it out in life and death. Born in Bremen, Germany with summers spent in the Austrian Tyrol he is literally preprogrammed to be a romantic.
His mother, a dreamer raised on Schumann, palinka shots and weeping Hungarian violins demands it. “Love, my love, and desire—Sensucht—longing: These are the things that make the history, the things upon which great legends are built. Without these, you have dust in your mouth.”
Yet Heuer’s love for things musical “the cicada’s song” or lyrical “… her tangs of violet commixing with scents of must, like the old place back home in Europe” are squelched by history and a profound belief that he is “born bad” and cannot undo it.
“Small, both in mind and body, he had tremendous appetites, all of which skewed towards becoming more than what he actually was.” An apropos description not of the man, but of the father, Werner, whose tastes “… classic in [their] narcissism, embraced the moldy old ethos of ethnicity over geography, and, as such, he was first in line when Anschluss came to Vienna…”
Werner Heuer has no time for art or music: “For him, the rhythmic tapping of jackboots on pavement went beyond forced occupation; it was the end of the road after a long trek.”
Eschewing his parents’ hang-ups, Heuer does his best to build a life in America that is, by all accounts, immensely successful and hardly lonely. But it is contrived. Dodging promotion, cruising the outer banks that frame society, he keeps to himself, except when he toys with the lives of others. When a young colleague joins the firm Heuer takes action, not swiftly, but slowly, the way he likes it: “The decision to ruin a young man half his age was taken lightly and on purpose, as if giving weight to the decision conferred unjust power on the youth. To Heuer, it was personal, but also a test to see if he could actually do it.”
All business, Heuer reminds me of another character, Irmtraut Weibigand, currently under construction in POOR UNDERTAKER, a work in progress. A woman of business, she wrestles with secret doubts about the veracity of her citizenship, place in the community, and the integrity of the people she tries to call friends. A raucous Chamber of Commerce luncheon exacerbates this, when she rises in defense of her frenemy Hartmut Fläche, whose effete manners and pomposity alight the simmering hatred of fellow Chamber member Conrad Hickey. Defending Fläche’s right to exist, Irmtraut loses her cool as she’s reminded that she’s as ‘foreign’ as he is even though she has been a part of the community for nearly thirty years. Well read, she cannot help but think of Shakespeare’s monster Caliban from the Tempest making a subtle but conscious comparison to her own place on the ‘island’ that is Portside, Michigan. Thinking back to her mother, her provenance and her roots, she is cut at the knees, reminding herself that no matter how fine she becomes, she will always wear homespun.
Like Irmtraut, like Werner, Heuer wrestles with his identity which takes centre stage anno domini. His inane Germanity no longer an issue, Heuer wishes only to be cared for and remembered.