It's become a truism of modern life that young people - especially well-educated, urban ones - are growing up later and later, putting off the sort of responsibilities their parents shouldered at an earlier age.
While we can debate what it means to be truly "grown up," this phenomenon seems to be a global one. Consider the novels of England's Nick Hornby (particularly About a Boy, with its pampered, stunted protagonist) and now the latest novel by a Berlin writer who is currently living in Madison as part of a writer's exchange.
Träum' weiter (Dream On) is the second novel by Berlin resident Stefan Rehberger, 36. It was released by major German publisher Rowohlt earlier this month. Rehberger will read from his work Wednesday evening at Sundance Cinemas.
Dream On concerns a 35-year-old freelance copywriter, Roman, whose life is perking along just fine until, as Rehberger puts it, "Real life pushes in when his girlfriend gets pregnant and then his father has a stroke the same night his child is born. He has to take care of everything. Can he make it, or is he an irresponsible, do-no-good guy who's going to mess it up?"
While the book is not directly autobiographical - Rehberger has no children - the author admits, "The hero of the book is more or less me, and his father is more or less my father." Just as Roman makes his living as a freelance writer, so does Rehberger, who has written scripts for popular TV shows ranging from the German version of Ugly Betty to Germany's longest-running soap, Good Times, Bad Times.
Rehberger explains how his social world in Berlin is a lot like his character's: "As happens nowadays, especially in Berlin, you've got your job, a cheap place to live, your friends, and you keep on with your independent, spontaneous student life." His writing explores a belated coming-of-age with wit and drama.
Rehberger arrived in Madison Sept. 1 and flies back to Berlin at the end of November. His time here is part of the Hessen-Wisconsin Writers' Exchange, a program that sends Wisconsin writers to Germany and brings German writers here in alternating years. Hessen is Wisconsin's sister state and, while Rehberger no longer lives there, it is the region in which he grew up, near Frankfurt.
While in Madison, Rehberger is living at Edenfred, a private residence-turned-artists' residency in Madison's Highlands neighborhood. Edenfred is run by the Terry Family Foundation.
His literary residency, during which he's working on his third novel, is Rehberger's first visit to the U.S. He's following the presidential election closely and has also made an excursion to South Dakota, where he saw the Black Hills, the Badlands and also tried his luck singing karaoke in a cowboy bar. In November, he'll visit New York City.
Asked what has surprised him about his first encounter with Wisconsin, Rehberger says, "Food, with the slow food movement, the farmers' market and microbreweries. There's a big awareness about food that I had not expected. I got some really great tomatoes at the farmers' market!"