When a mezzo-soprano star of the local opera disappears, her worrywart husband must explore the depths of a bizarre and labyrinthine city for clues to her whereabouts.
Some debut manuscripts are better left in desk drawers. That’s not to say that librarian-by-day Lundgren’s debut is without certain merits. The writer clearly has some syntactical skill, and his experiment in worldbuilding is ambitious. However, a seriously disagreeable narrator and a gloss of highbrow humor take the shine off this slice of literary absurdity quickly. Our narrator is Sven Norberg, a schlubby, smoking cubicle jockey who lives in the fictional city of Trude. Trude is a really weird amalgam of Midwestern highways and shopping malls punctuated with bizarre European-influenced behemoths designed by a mysterious architect named Bernhard. It’s a city that has barricaded its libraries, creating a secretive underground of armed librarians, and it’s, conversely, one that is obsessed with opera and other forms of high culture. Its superstar was Norberg’s wife, Molly, who disappeared with no warning, leaving Sven to raise their teenage son, Kyle. Things happen—Sven starts sleeping with a very young girl named Plea; Kyle falls under the influence of a cultlike church; and clues to Molly’s whereabouts start appearing in coded entries in the local newspaper. Later, a woman named Cassandra indicates to Sven that she may have clues to Molly’s frame of mind. But none of it ever goes anywhere. It’s as if the author is introducing odd situations and absurd events simply to shout at readers how terribly witty it all is. When asked for guidance from his son, Sven answers bluntly. “As I see it, the point is to endure as much shit as you can without any illusions,” he says. Add on to all of this an ambiguous, confusing denouement, and the final product is a pretentious, frustrating mess.
A hollow satire working so very hard at being clever that it forgets to deliver any emotional truth.