Sweden, Mexico, England, Greece, Spain, Croatia, Ireland, Austria, Sweden again, and again, Paris, America, and etc.
Power’s internationalist 10-story debut is populated by travelers of many kinds—by characters lost in the world or in themselves. On vacation with his young family in Greece, the narrator of “The Colossus of Rhodes” (a masterly story) recalls a childhood trip to Rhodes and the violence(s) he encountered there. In “The Haväng Dolmen” (also masterly), an archaeologist undertakes an unsettling voyage to a stone-age burial site in Sweden where he “grasp[s] what it is to die.” In “Johnny Kingdom,” a stand-up comedian in a creative rut makes ends meet by impersonating a famous dead comedian—meanwhile looking for ways to “[leave] the Kingdom” of impersonation forever. In the meh-quality “Above the Wedding,” an emotionally needy British alcoholic heads to a Mexican wedding and tries to seduce the groom…who had previously seduced him. In “The Crossing”—unconvincing and overly symbolic; the collection’s weakest offering—a pair of romantically entangled trekkers cross (or don’t) a few difficult streams. But the collection’s most affecting traveler is Eva, the primary character of the three titular “Mother” stories. In the first of these, “Summer 1976,” Eva is at once a 10-year-old Swedish girl who dreams of world travel and a 60-year-old narrator traveling through her memories, looking for truths about her mother who passed away only two years after the story’s remembered events. Later, in the hauntingly subtle “Innsbruck,” Eva—older, semiparanoid, suicidal, and seen now from the third person—drifts around Europe guided by her mother’s 1970s travel guide (“because of its age it is almost worthless as a source of information”) and eventually decides whether or not to continue with her life. The trilogy’s long closing story, “Eva,” which takes place some years after “Innsbruck,” follows Joe, Eva’s husband, as he and their daughter, Marie, struggle with Eva’s depression, avoidance, and periods of unannounced, multiyear absences during which, fulfilling her childhood dreams, she wanders the world alone, sending postcards.
Despite its uneven moments, Power’s wide-ranging debut is confident, complex, bizarre, poignant, and elegantly crafted—a very strong collection.