“People who hurt others are the ones with the best imagination,” Rebecka said.
Short stories. Wonderful short stories, so the traditional comparison would be with beautiful, polished gemstones. That’s not right, though. While the stories here all have a very definite lustre, they’re all also undeniably weird and certainly not pretty in the blandly conventional way of a cut diamond or ruby.
Imagine you’d come back from beachcombing with a pocket full of wave-smoothed stones and within them, amongst all the trilobites and ammonites, you also find a fossilized human finger bone, still wrapped by its wedding band. That’s Jagannath; a freaky little collection of flotsam and scrimshaw that you can’t help but devour in a single sitting, no matter how much it unsettles your stomach or sets your nerves on edge.
Steampunk, far-future SF, folk tales, Carrollian grotesques; you really can’t classify the stories here under a single banner, except to say they’re all odd. Very definitely odd. My personal favourite is Rebecka, of that opening quote. A suicidal woman trapped in a nightmare game of Russian Roulette against a petty and capricious god; it’s existentially terrifying like nothing else I’ve come across in the past few years.
The other stories are lighter, though that’s a relative term. Highlights include Some Letters from Ove Lindström, Brita’s Holiday Village, and Reindeer Mountain; three thematically related glimpses of individuals from families blessed/cursed by the touch of the beyond. Who is Arvid Pekon? is a Kafkaesque daydream/nightmare and the title story is a wonderful combination of far-future SF and body-horror. I could (and almost just did) name every story in this collection, but I should close by mentioning the pair of Augusta Prima and Aunts, because they are almost perfect exemplifiers of the short story writer’s art.
Short stories sacrifice length for depth. Every detail, every sentence needs to speak to a fully formed world beyond that which is seen. You don’t need to know what it contains, but you have to be convinced that it’s there, turning away behind what is specifically revealed. Aunts takes a single paragraph from Augusta Prima and shows you the details working in the background.
“The Aunts were as always immersed in their holy task to fatten.”
You’d want to know more about that, wouldn’t you? While in this case you get to find that out, the joy of Tidbeck’s writing is that for every sentence like that you just know there’s another story lying behind it, and another, and another. That’s what I mean by depth.
Lovely cover, too.
Lovely cover, too.