Three Novellas by Thomas Bernhard, translated by Peter Jansen and Kenneth J. Northcott (University of Chicago Press)
"After our parent's suicide, we were shut up for two and a half months in the tower..." So begins Thomas Bernhard's novella, Amras, one third of Three Novellas, recently released by University of Chicago Press. Bernhard was a 20th century Austrian playwright, poet, and novelist who is receiving increasing amounts of attention in the U.S.

Bernhard describes a world of suffering; a world of illness, madness, and loss, in which suicide is not only an option, but often times a goal. In creating this world, Bernhard's prose can be much like his subjects: tedious, repetitive, and maddening. As Brian Evenson puts it in the forward: "As the sentences stack up and logic begins a relentless and darkly comic spin, you are in danger of being crowded out of your head."

All three novellas drag the reader through a hopeless maze, stringing him/her along with a multitude of commas, colons, and ellipses. In Amras, the narrator describes his life with his brother, living in their uncle's tower following the suicide of their parents. The brothers are alive only because their attempt at suicide failed. In Playing Watten, the narrator, a doctor who recently lost his practice because of morphine abuse, describes a visit from the truck driver. The truck driver has come to take the doctor to play Watten, a card game. The doctor refuses and the two of them discuss the recent suicide of one of their fellow players, the papermaker.

This collection represents some of Bernhard's earliest work, two of the novellas published here for the first time in English. His writing is not easy, but the payoff is in witnessing a world so thoroughly mad, so exactingly dark that it is hilarious--hilarious not because Bernhard is ridiculous, or unbelievable, but because he succeeds in making his stories totally believable and life so ridiculous. By the end of Three Novellas, the reader is almost surprised more people do not take their own lives. As the doctor in Playing Watten says as an explanation for suicide: "For the most complicated people, just as for the simplest, everything is a reason, at least once a day." M. WILLIAM HELFRICH