Three Dreams in the Key of G, by Marc Nash, is a book that took me some time to engage with. The language used is complex in places with much play on words not often employed in storytelling. There is a reason for this which when revealed left me exhilarated. The ideas presented and their presentation will not easily be eclipsed.
The story utilises three voices. The most accessible is that of a young mother living in small town, small minded, mid Ulster as the peace process is brokered. She is married to a staunch Loyalist, despising his hate filled rhetoric but silently. Where once she had dreams of attending university in Belfast, her family vetoed this plan due to the possible dangers a young girl could be faced with living alone in a big city. These dangers concerned the freedom from family watchfulness, freedom from the ever present threat of their opprobrium, and what such freedom might enable her to become.
The second voice is that of the human genome project – somehow the author makes this work. It explores how humans seek to understand and thereby control what they are, their essential make up. Man wishes to meddle to prolong life, to affect what he creates. There is still much that he does not comprehend about what makes him what he is. This voice is resonant with irony and wit. The details bring man down to size, mocking his earnest endeavours. However marvellous scientific discoveries may be their impact will be shadowed by other influences.
The third voice is that of an elderly lady running a refuge for victims of domestic violence in America. The state is suspicious of her attempts to escape the deleterious effects of overt masculinity. They regard her venture as a threat.
The mother writes in her journal of her thoughts and experiences with her two young daughters. Having accepted this path for her life, as is expected of the women in her family and community, she rails against its constrictions. She aims to raise her children well, with little help from her husband: “the troubles (small ‘t’)“. She ponders what her girls have inherited from their parents and how this will affect them as they develop, what language they will learn to speak.
“Cooing and trilling, sound cantered asunder like spiderlings ballooning on their silk threads. But gradually she anchors her vocal drift, as she ingests the intoned gobbets spilling from my tongue. I watch her kneading the sounds, hands to mouth, a second, invisible umbilical from me to her. Passing along my dead language. That parched parchment from my cracked and parched lips that will not quench her thirst for congruence. For I recognise it will only succeed in re-sealing the esophagal aperture magically parted by her genes.”
“A dead language emanating from someone who scarcely lives a life. But even this is not the mummifying cause. The language, my language, is sententious and doctrinaire. Replete with exclamations, directives and interrogatives.”
“So the everyday arpeggio of parenting inevitably thrums and frets my stretched nerve strings. Single noted, sharp and shrill, instead of flat and even. A drone all the same. Off-kilter rather than merely off key. Whatever the issue at hand, the tilting ground, the mittened gauntlet thrown down is ratcheted up into a disproportionate response on my part. Since, no matter how much it is cloaked with the pathognomy of tiredness or frustration, behind each and every one of my emissions flares the filament of anger. The incendiary of rage and dejection at myself and what I have become.”
As the mother goes through her days – shopping, school runs, desolate beach trips, daytime TV – the genome project churns out its findings, musing on why it is being attempted.
“For there is only Sex and Death. Passing on and passing over and vice versa. How your trepidation over mortality feeds into your procreative drive. The pair intertwined round one another like poison ivy.”
“I deal in the architecture of potentia, where you are grounded in the material shoring of tenure. See, the key difference between you and I is that life and time stretch everlasting into the future, for me as DNA and you as my prized host bloodstock. But not for you as individuals.”
In the refuge women are also procreating, but not with those who drove them to reside in this place. Their choices, their autonomy to make such choices, are what the state sees as a threat. Women should exist for man’s pleasure and the perpetuation of his genes.
This is remarkable writing that explores man’s proclivities and purported cleverness. Each relationship is shown to be one sided, supposed understanding a reflection of self. Man can draw the map and tinker around the edges of the detail, but how much of true note can be changed?
All of this is explored, dissected, and presented in language rich with depth and meaning. The conclusions are salient yet, when considered dispassionately, unsurprising. Man chooses to ignore so much in plain sight as he strokes his prejudices and vanities.
A book that soars and leaves a frisson in its contrails. A challenging, stunning, wholly satisfying creation.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Dead Ink.