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VALENTINES by Olaf Olafsson

VALENTINES

Stories

By Olaf Olafsson

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 0-375-42468-7
Publisher: Pantheon

The Icelandic-American novelist (Walking into the Night, 2003, etc.) titles the 12 stories in this collection after months of the year.

Fires burn merrily in the opening stories, the winter months, but the mood is bleak. Tomas, in “January,” is a decent guy crippled by emotional reserve; he failed his one serious love interest, Maureen, in her hour of need; ten years later, he fails her again. Jon and Linda (“February”) had a good marriage until Jon strayed. Both want to repair the damage, but the prospects are dimmed by a clever surprise ending. Karl and Jenny, Icelanders vacationing at a Colorado ski resort (“March”), also have a solid marriage, but an accident reopens the wound caused by their childlessness. The longer stories have a richer emotional texture. Johann and Karen were a close-knit couple until Karen met Janet; it was love at first sight for both of them (“May”). The couple’s breakup is amicable until a garage sale of their belongings, when Johann goes berserk, in an electrifying close. In the deliciously twisty “June,” Soley is a newlywed devoted to both her controlling father and her seemingly strong husband, but exposure to his disorder (vertigo) and her father’s wiles end her marriage. Not all the stories end in disaster. Jakob, on vacation in Slovenia with his wife, Iris, suffers paranoia and anxiety over a dalliance that occurred there years before, but there’s a glimmer of a happy ending (“August”). Edda is a quiet, conservative Icelander married to an American, Mark, a brash lightweight (“September”). Does she love him or just pity him? The jury is out. There’s not an ounce of fat on most of these stories; Olafsson is an admirably brisk, compelling narrator. In the two skimpy tales that end the year, however, he seems to be running out of steam, perhaps a prisoner of his own format.

The title of this collection is ironic; any love that flows here is wayward and all too perishable.