Seventeen absurdist short stories from the land of the midnight sun.
It’s not clear whether this debut collection of Swedish-influenced short fiction from Merkner (Creative Writing/West Chester University) is meant to be parody, collage or dream diary, but all the stories are either weighty with loquaciousness or viciously abridged, which is often for the better. After opening with a long-winded farce about a pig, Merkner offers “Check the Baby,” about a man and his wife who have resorted to trading sexual favors for the right not to check on their newborn. “The stakes are not low, I might add,” he writes. “I have 4,027 blowjobs coming my way someday, it’s not exactly clear when, and my wife has roughly fourteen hours of French-style kissing.” “Local Accident” (widely available online if you need a sample) is about a woman whose hit-and-run accident causes her to lose her baby: “The fact is you don’t always choose your choices. You don’t always choose your victims and you don’t always choose your witnesses. That’s why we call them accidents.” Several stories concern themselves with the trials of parenthood, notably “When our Son, 26, Brings us His First Girlfriend” and “When our Son, 36, Asks us for What He Calls a Small Loan.” Other stories are about those things that divide us—the mute father in “O Sweet One in the Bluff” or the divorcé in “Cabins,” who discovers that he is not alone in his lonesomeness. Others are variations on long-held myths, like the title character of “The Cook at Swedish Castle.” The author clearly has some kind of affection for his oversized caricatures, and there are moments of humor throughout, but there’s a great deal of cynicism at play, too.
Very literary, highly experimental and not very interesting to read all in a row.