The beauty, for me, of Marcus Speh’s “Three Berg Passages: a Triptych” is that it doesn’t altogether make sense. It’s a trio of disjointed, isolated pieces. I spent quite some time reading and re-reading them, trying to find some links between them, and I don’t see one. Maybe there is and I just don’t see it. Maybe I’m just not that smart. I don’t really care. The joy, for me, in this kind of writing is in the odd, subtle absurdity of it all. Am I meant to find these stories funny? Because I do. But I find Kafka hilarious. Maybe there’s something wrong with me.
There is, of course, another kind of beauty – the beauty of the language. Speh’s writing is, for the most part, terse, precise and minimal. But when the desire takes him, he unleashes wonderful flourishes, such as “This hallucination, too, was part of his father’s heritage, as were the stark fishtail blue eyes and the fine, sensitive hair on the back of his hands. They had to make up for this distorted vision of half of humanity.” I imagine him like some kind of wordsmith boxer, hopping from foot to foot with deliberate ease, only to suddenly let loose a flurry of blows that leave you gasping.
My favourite piece is probably the last in the three, “Passages”, in which a boy pulls a horrible face and then reaches down into his own stomach to pull out a magic ring, only for the assembled crowds of people to be thoroughly disappointed when the boy cannot tell them if the ring is special or even what it does. This to me feels like a pointed critique at aspects of the society we live in now, where it is the end result that is interesting, magical; it is instant celebrity. Hard work, the effort, the path to that goal is unimpressive – “Anybody can find a ring”.