THE AMERICAN GIRL by Monika Fagerholm


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The death by drowning of the eponymous female during a visit to Finland in 1969 stirs up waves that flow through several lives for years thereafter, in this third novel from the popular European author.

Fagerholm (Wonderful Women By the Sea, 1997) openly challenges readers with a 12-page overture that suggests the mysterious effect of itinerant Eddie de Wire (the deceased, who evokes memories of Andy Warhol’s unstable “superstar” Edie Sedgwick) on the friendless adolescent boy Bengt (aka Bencku) who finds her body, and on two teenaged girls, Doris and Sandra. The latter two are for different reasons family-less, and are brought—ironically—together and pulled apart by the flickering, briefly glimpsed shadow of the improbably glamorous, albeit unquestionably seductive Eddie. Fagerholm’s almost aggressively lyrical prose style (at least, as persuasively rendered by translator Tucker) feels forced at times, and her employment of fragmented narrative and time scheme, as well as multiple points of view, keeps the story at a distance from even the most willing reader. But there is much to admire here, including a precise, bitterly funny rendering of life in “The District,” a posh coastal development near Helsinki, bordered on one side by ocean and on the other by marshlands which perhaps offer a gracious nod to Dickens’s masterpiece Great Expectations—as does Fagerholm’s piercing depiction of the awkward misfit Bencku’s fervent yearnings to fit in, and belong. But the novel’s center is rightly occupied by the duo of “knocked-about trash kid” Doris and emotionally frail, neurotic Sandra—and the lingering aftermath of their collusion, intimacy and estrangement. Fagerholm pointedly demonstrates that the cycle of hopefulness and disillusionment will embrace subsequent generations.

A genuinely gripping, if demanding novel, the first of an announced two-volume work. Many readers will eagerly await this richly imagined story’s continuation.

Pub Date: Feb. 16th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-59051-304-0
Page count: 528pp
Publisher: Other Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2010