Latest Review: "Walker on Water" by Kristiina Ehin
Here’s the beginning of Patrick’s review:
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither a criticism, nor the identification of a flaw is that Walker on Water is an unusual book that pushes boundaries, and the readers it would most appeal to are vastly different. This book is for those who like their stories very brief, abstracted, non-linear, without traditional character or plot, and for those to whom fabulism appeals, those who want stories to be strange and magical, something resembling, but far from, fairy tales.
When you look underneath a woman who walks on water, whose husband comes home and takes his brain out of his head, or a woman who collects her husband’s “big juicy apricots,” look past character names like Teacher of Joy, Surrealist’s Daughter, Stone Chunk, and Beautiful Question, Ehin’s stories are predominantly about relationships, mostly that between lovers. Her characters fall in and out of love, back in and out again, ever changing, ever keeping secrets. At times, the connections to tangible, and recognizable aspects of relationships are visible, though even then there is no certain, specific comparison—as in “Cushions,” where the narrator and her husband are literally deaf to each other, and only each other: “I realized that whenever I related my tales to my husband, he was relating his to me at the same time.” But mostly, when the people come into conflict with one another, the parallels to our lives are indistinct.
The repetition with variation of conflict is not necessarily man versus woman, but man and woman struggling within themselves, and it is the outward expression of that struggle that erupts their relationships. Many of the stories open quickly, directly into their odd world, as in the first sentence of “Patterns,” when the narrator tells us “The three men I’ve bitten arms off of are doing well.” These men, all named Jaan, did nothing to deserve her violence—this impossible, animalistic violence. Each of them simply woke her, but in the wakings, no matter the love, or the peacefulness of the situation, there is a suggestion of control, such as when one has made her breakfast and wants to eat it with her before it gets cold. The women of Walker on Water are tensed, so aware of a culture in which men are violent, are cruel and controlling, that they live on the taut edge of fight or flight. So the arm-chewing woman, when her husband came to her, “felt his gigantic, rapidly twitching muscle” and “Rage struck [her] like a thunderbolt.” She did not want to bite his arm off, but taken from sleep, the instinct, the reaction to the dark potentials of intertwined lives, could not be helped.
For the rest of the review, go here.