Author: Barry Hogstrom

ISBN: 978-1-4675-9574-2


A drunken brawl in 1950 sets four young adults in a small Swedish town on an intertwined course that lasts 60 years. A leap to 1979 in chapter two brings us to a pivotal moment, and face to face with violence erupting from a sense of hopelessness. What has happened, and why do these people and their children feel so strongly about one another?

Much of this lengthy novel seems slow, written with excruciating detail about very small things – a preference for scraping snow off a windshield, for instance – to place the reader in a cold, quiet country of emotionally isolated individuals, where internal monologues are invisible storms. The dialogues, when they occur, are significant. The author teases us by jumping back and forth in time before allowing us to understand the truth that limits the characters’ happiness, and which runs like a locomotive through the guts of those responsible. The action is interspersed with narrative to help us keep pace: headlines, politics, popular lyrics, and the narrator’s opinions about how the world is faring.

The narrator is Paul, the younger sibling of Agnes, a woman desired by two brothers. He has seen the most change over the years, because he has been liberated by moving from a conservative blue collar town to a big city. Meanwhile, Adam Seger has grown into a very responsible job with a pharmaceuticals company, and it is an uncomfortable fit. The younger Seth, who is certain he has wasted his life on writing a novel, is married to Agnes, who suffers and searches, withdraws, and keeps moving through the relationships, trying to hang onto what is rewarding. The parents of these four are friends, and essential to the unfolding of events.

The title of this novel seems to explain what it contains, yet it does not convey the value, the deeper truths of the work. Perhaps because I am of Swedish ancestry, I appreciate the close encounter with the psyches of these characters as well as the descriptive detail that reminds me that geography is destiny.

The author, a Swedish doctor living and working in the United States, has packed a lot of facts into his first novel, but also his morality as he reflects on the changes over his lifetime (and mine). One caution: The translation is not perfect, and misspellings or misuses become noticeable. However, it is worth overlooking to get at the intent of the author, someone I think I would trust with my life.

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