Anxious Pleasures takes Franz Kafka’s profoundly haunting and sad comic novella, The Metamorphosis, and reanimates it through the vantage points of those who surrounded Gregor Samsa during his plight. All the familiar characters are here, including the hysterical mother, stern father, faithless sister, and the pragmatic household cook. But we are also introduced to, among others, the would-be author downstairs who daydreams of the narrative he may someday compose and a young woman in contemporary London reading Kafka’s slim book for the first time.
Or do they all comprise a few of the disturbing dreams from which Gregor is about to snap awake one morning to find himself transformed into a monstrous vermin? In the tradition of Michael Cunningham’s The Hours and John Gardner’s Grendel, Olsen’s novel not only represents a collaboration with a ghost, but, too, a celebration, augmentation, complication, and devoted unwriting of a momentously influential text.