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.


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