Saša Stanišić once noted in his pre-father Twitter time that he would like to comment on books that so many chapters are good, so many not so. With the sum he could evaluate a novel. At some point you think of this remark, but then you’ve probably given up on Martin Lechner and his novel The wrong way. Turning back, looking through the many short chapters, is there a point, a twist at which the story of Lars has lost you? When his above all threatening drunk mother, the bland middle class town, the community service as an opportunity to escape from it all, and the curious love affair with Hedwig began to bore you pretty much? The point does not exist and the Stanišić sum does not make a good balance for the novel.
Martin Lechner’s debut Small Cash Register from 2014 was on the long list for the German Book Prize, critics crowned it with words like “turbulent” and “breathless”. The story about a slightly dumb apprentice was garnished with the note that the Austrian Residenz-Verlag publishes a completely un-Austrian story here and that one could get a little angry with German publishers about it. Because at the big bookstore’s counter, the story was probably a surprise success: a provincial comedy, a cinematographically combined hasty escape with a suitcase, expressionist streams of thought, wild observations. You can like it, it can also seem lightweight.
Already in Small Cash Register Kaltenmoor and the merchant town of Linderstedt appeared, Lars, classmate of the protagonist, declared that “he would rather hammer two nails into his feet” than sit down in the classroom again. The wrong way turns to Lars when he “foolishly signed up ten months ago for community service in the psychiatric institution on the outskirts of Linderstedt”. And already here, in the first sentence, we get an indication of the character of the protagonist and especially how the narrator will treat him: The circumstance word evaluates Lars keeps at a distance from the start. And, foolishly, he doesn’t work his way out of it, or only seldom.
The protagonists out Small Cash Register and The wrong way are similar, both are not the brightest candles on the cake, both experience stories of adolescence, and in all the youthfulness the language wallows, people “whiz”, the telephone, ie “cell phone”, “trembles” in their pants, Lars “Gurgles” down a glass of milk, sometimes cultivates a “nasty, stupid, muffy cat mood”. This can be related to the lazy nonsense of community service, which for the by no means purposeful Lars is an opportunity to watch from a dormitory how dreary time flies by.
Lars has physical peculiarities, a superfluous row of teeth that he is ashamed of, and after contemporary video bullying at the grammar school, he first gave up and switched to community service as a buffer to his mother and school society. Things are in a mess here, superiors are annoying and the number with Hedwig is supposed to be weird: The novel tries its hand at colorful descriptions, also illustrates minor characters as wrongly turned somewhere, uses an almost convulsively wide range of verbs.
All that could still happen, only Lechner hangs his protagonist persistently with epithets that want to make him lazy, dull, lazy, intimidated and slowly appear in his head that he is never more suitable than a caricature of the antihero. The main reason is that all the absurdities are dragged in, the relationships and twists just seem pretty irrelevant. The heavy weight of all the narrator’s judgments pushes Lars to the ground, The wrong way just doesn’t get anywhere.
The wrong way Martin Lechner Residenz Verlag 2021, 272 pages, € 24