Thursday, April 14, 2011

Prose by Thomas Bernhard

Translated from the German by Martin Chalmers

It's really tough to be brilliant.  In fact, for the men in these seven short stories, their unimaginable intelligence seems to cause them more confusion than triumph.  While successful in their fields, they barely manage to exist in the real world.  This leads to all sorts of issues:  mostly amusing, often strange, but quite atypical to what one would expect from a genius.

With these stories, Bernhard exposes a part of human nature that goes beyond intelligence.  The confusion that comes from being set apart as different, the difficulties of doing something new when everyone else thinks you already know the drill, and what to do when things don't make sense.  It's subtle but it's apparent that these guys are almost defective because of their genius.  They seem unable to understand sarcasm or even affection.

Much of their time is spent dealing with insomnia (apparently sleep can seem impossible with all those big thoughts spinning around), pacing miles of streets each day, and second-guessing their every action as they try to fit into the world.

The stories are at times heartbreaking or alternatively, riotously funny.  One man finds a hat, a trivial piece of nothing, and makes it the course of every waking moment to find the owner, in a small town where everyone owns that same damn hat.  Yet to him, it must have value because it exists.  Another story finds two men, both deformed from birth and subject to the hatred of their families, who try to develop an existence that is normal;  yet when you meet their family, you truly begin to wonder who actually is deformed.  The emotionally deformed parent who abuses their helpless child, or the scorned child himself?

This is not a downer book-the stories are short and the play on words is unique.  The humor is dry, and the situations reveal the confusion that can happen in an ordinary interaction when one person prejudges the other.  Additionally, the book has achieved major buzz in literary circles already by the concise story lines and unexpected details.

Special thanks to Seagull Books of London for the Review Copy.

1 comment:

  1. I've never read anything by Thomas Bernhard. This sounds like a great short story collection. I am off to add it to my TBR. Thanks so much for bringing my attention to it.