13 January 14 | Kaija Straumanis

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is by P.T. Smith on Ólafur Gunnarsson’s The Thaw, translated by the author, and out from New American Press.

Patrick is one of our regular reviewers, fellow literature enthusiast, and a patient person to boot (I’ve had this review in-hand since before Christmas—sorry!). He also hopes, one day, to own a drunken dog named Wigrum. Or at least I hope he does; it’s an idea so great that I would feel horrible stealing it. (And before any readers go all PETA on me, just give a hyper pitbull-rottweiler mix a quarter cup of beer and watch it pass out happily, snoring, in the middle of the living room for an hour, and then judge me. Your grandpa/uncle/dad never comes near to looking that happy.)

I DIGRESS. Per usual. Here’s the beginning of Patrick’s review:

Short story collections, whether collected over a period of time or written specifically as a set, often have a way of revealing an author’s preoccupation, and Ólafur Gunnarsson’s The Thaw is no different. Throughout its ten stories, we see the same themes turned to time and time again: ambiguity overlaying points of clarity, a blend of mundane realism and the weird, compassion coming from moments of insights into a character, and the sinister potential that broils beneath when all of this interacts. Reading his returns to themes one after another makes it easy to see when it succeeds, and when it falls flat.

The opening two stories do much to show what to expect. In the brief “Alien,” a father’s response to one of his young daughters enjoying Ridley Scott’s Alien is to tell her that he too is an alien, and will return home that day. In the divorced, broken family (in the time of the story, even the twins are separated), the unnamed characters, simply daughters, wives, and narrators, we see the isolation of people from one another that will run through the rest of the stories. There is the haunting, unresolved, near cruelness of his treatment of his daughter, but it is heavy-handed, and reads like the idea of an author, not the character himself. We also encounter a certain oddness with Gunnarsson’s writing: he wants ambiguity to have the final word, but there is also an affection for brief statements of certainty. When it shows us what we otherwise might not see, it is welcome, but when, as in this opening story, he explains the plot of Alien, or in “The Revelation” portrays an alcoholic nearly bathing in Southern Comfort, and later points out it is his favorite drink, ambiguity would be preferable. It is, in the end, a rough and unenthusiastic way to begin a collection.

For the rest of the review, go here.


Comments are disabled for this article.
....
Bye Bye Blondie
Bye Bye Blondie by Virginie Despentes
Reviewed by Emma Ramadan

Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .

Read More >

La Superba
La Superba by Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer
Reviewed by Anna Alden

Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .

Read More >

Intervenir/Intervene
Intervenir/Intervene by Dolores Dorantes; Rodrigo Flores Sánchez
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .

Read More >

All Days Are Night
All Days Are Night by Peter Stamm
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .

Read More >

The Seven Good Years
The Seven Good Years by Etgar Keret
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .

Read More >

Human Acts
Human Acts by Han Kang
Reviewed by J.C. Sutcliffe

Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .

Read More >

Nowhere to Be Found
Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah
Reviewed by Pierce Alquist

It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015 PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has. . .

Read More >

La paz de los vencidos
La paz de los vencidos by Jorge Eduardo Benavides
Reviewed by Brendan Riley

Jorge Eduardo Benavides’ novel La paz de los vencidos (The Peace of the Defeated) takes the form of a diary written by a nameless Peruvian thirty-something intellectual slumming it in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. Recently relocated. . .

Read More >

Souffles-Anfas: A Critical Anthology
Souffles-Anfas: A Critical Anthology by Various
Reviewed by Emma Ramadan

Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary Moroccan writing must start with Souffles. A cultural and political journal, Souffles (the French word for “breaths”) was founded in 1966 by Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostafa Nissabouri. Run by a group of. . .

Read More >

Berlin
Berlin by Aleš Šteger
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .

Read More >

The next few events from our Translation Events Calendar: See More Events >