Thank You For Your Sperm
by Marcus Speh
MadHat Press, 2013
188 pages / $15.00 buy from MadHat Press or Amazon
Marcus Speh explores the tender side of absurdity with Thank You for Your Sperm. Though this is flash fiction it lingers in the mind for much longer. Entire histories are suggested in these small pieces. Not a word is wasted either. From the title to the last line Marcus Speh uses language economically. Words playfully jump across the page opening entirely new histories within histories. Geography is a key part of these stories as geography too can suggest a mood with a simple word or two. Berlin specifically gets rather affectionate treatment. How all of this comes together is quite impressive.
Characters within these stories are fully fleshed out. ‘Pleasant Pieces’ neatly organize a picture of a singular, titular character. Though they reference many familiar names (Max Ernst, Hansel and Gretel) they tend to focus on the writer’s own personal experiences, thoughts or ideas. How the mind wanders over these topics is brilliant. Little elements of childhood, growing up, ailments, memories, former friends and lovers, all find themselves in here. After a while the stories resemble a reality as filtered through a series of mirrors, constantly reflecting on both life and life’s inevitable interaction with a culture so dominant it becomes part of one’s upbringing.
‘One Thousand Shipwrecked Penguins’ adds additional layers of absurdity onto the overall structure. Here the pieces become more playful. Marcus Speh’s soul shines through the pieces about summer camp, swingers and snipers. Things become near-autobiographical in ‘The Serious Writer’ segment. For this particular series Marcus Speh gets quite personal. Later on this section is referenced as a particularly naked portrayal of himself as a writer. Since he is a German writer who writes in English it is interesting to see his perspective on those classically American experiences, both of writers and of America’s loudest embodiment, the great state of Texas. Tiny pieces of his life filter through in dying hamsters and blogs.
Blogs come up a number of times in the book through Marcus Speh’s own experience with his blog and another blog mentioned in the prologue. Technology comes into view with the IPAD which plays out as a comedy of misunderstandings. Writing changes before the serious writer, Marcus Speh’s stand-in. After surprising revelations in ‘The Serious Writer’ section he moves onto lovely, dreamlike imagery of ‘On Christmas Day’. Moving around the world he captures slivers of humanity’s experience.
At the end of ‘Unpleasant Pieces’ everything comes together. The absurdity is worked into a weird place. Everything moves. Nothing is stationary. Pieces of the Greek gods show themselves in the ephemeral ‘Thank You for Your Sperm’. By the very end of the book an interview helps to clarify elements of the book, neatly summarizing everything. Marcus Speh writes in a way that is refreshing unique, absurd, sad, and quite touching. ‘Thank You for Your Sperm’ is absurdity done gently from a point of view that’s revealing and surprisingly personal.