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by Jensen Beach

Pub Date: May 17th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-55597-738-2
Publisher: Graywolf

In these linked stories set in Sweden, a host of characters considers their family histories, the flaws of memory, and the looming prospect of their own mortality.

Beach’s second collection opens with a memorable image: two men engaged in a heated game of tennis in a small town north of Stockholm. One of them, a former professional player named Fredrik Holm, has a prosthetic arm; the other, Rolf Strand, seems like he’ll be the central character of the story, right up until a sudden bicycle accident causes his death. Both characters loom large throughout the book—Rolf’s son, Lennart, figures prominently in several stories, for example. The tales leap forward and backward in time, showcasing the ways different lives touch one another. Sometimes Beach’s storytelling is gradual, allowing the reader to draw connections between the stories at his or her own pace. This isn’t to say he avoids striking images. One story opens with an immediately gripping sentence: “From the bottom of a shallow ditch, Henrik needed help.” Perhaps the strongest story here is “The Winter War I,” in which the book’s many layers are reflected in a kaleidoscopic plot: Lennart brings his grandfather Bent to the opening of a work of art called The Winter War, inspired by the 1939-1940 conflict in which Bent himself fought. Bent’s own memory is failing, a condition mirrored by the artwork’s compression and distortion of time, but he retains some certainty about his life. “I don’t think it was anything like that,” he says with good reason after watching it.

The unexpected convergences and dramatic shifts in fortune of Beach’s characters make for a measured, quietly powerful experience.