Debut author Hogstrom’s naturalistic novel presents a dark vision of struggling families.
The story is set in Sweden and then in New York. The main characters in this tale—part mystery, part family saga—are the Seger boys, Karl and Seth, and the Lee siblings, Paulie and Agnes, who all grew up together. Secondarily, we have their parents, Adam and Victoria Seger, and Eva Lee (who is also Adam’s mistress). Then there is the mysterious character Gustav Lee, who walked out on Eva years ago. The time shifts from 1950 to the early ’70s, to the ’90s, and back to 1950 and the late ’70s and so forth, becoming quite kaleidoscopic. Then there are “dreamscapes,” chapters in which Karl dreams over and over of the night Agnes was beaten almost to death by Seth, who then committed suicide (or did he?). Finally, there are the scattered italicized chapters from Paulie’s viewpoint; these give us the flavor of the times, which usually means real and dire headlines of the day (the 1979 plane crash at O’Hare, the Patty Hearst kidnapping, John Lennon’s assassination). Still, although the time frame frequently jumps and the viewpoints shift, the plot maintains its coherence. Karl and Seth both struggle to woo Agnes. Seth is a struggling writer, and his frustrations lead to drink and physical violence. Meanwhile, Karl has a high-profile, stressful job with a pharmaceutical company. Circumstances eventually lead Agnes to return to Sweden; at book’s end, gay Paulie is in a therapeutic standoff with the AIDS that had threatened to kill him. Paulie’s tenuous victory and Agnes’s late arriving peace are not enough to offset the pain that the characters have suffered for 300 pages. Agnes and Karl—not to mention Karl and Seth—cannot open up to one another. Characters cry bitterly and often, but the crying offers no real release. Hogstrom has some success limning his scenes, but errors and misspellings abound. “Break, for example, is consistently spelled “brake”; “literary” tries to stand in for “literally.” Spotting these, becomes almost a (very distracting) game for the reader
With its endless wars and broken economies, this error-prone novel assumes a bleak tone.