Man in the Holocene, by Max Frisch. Translated by Geoffrey Skelton. New York: A Harvest/HBJ Paperback. 113 pp. $3.95

In the enforced isolation of day after day of rain in a valley located in the Swiss Alps, retired widower Herr Geiser begins to fear a monumental landslide, like those that have buried villages in the past.

He reads and writes down excerpts of scientific information about the geological history of the region. New-found knowledge reassures him for a time, but then cracks start to appear in that knowledge. More profound questions lead him to discover the transcience of human existence - the idea that mankind, like the dinosaurs, may be a phenomenon of one discrete age, the Holocene, rather than the universe's reason for being.

Geiser tries to deny what he sees as his fate of decline, death, and reintegration - which he suspects are the natural order of things - by fleeing to the city and the youth he left behind. Once there he realizes that he has no wish to leave the valley, so he returns to face the future. This profound book may well be considered a masterpiece.

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