At the very top of the world, two lonely outsiders find comfort in each other in Dinerstein’s deliciously melancholy debut.
After her college relationship predictably disintegrates, 21-year-old Frances, an aspiring artist, accepts an apprenticeship at the Viking Museum in Lofoten, a string of islands 95 miles above the Arctic Circle in Norway, trading in a summer watching her parents’ marriage unravel for a summer learning to paint all-yellow murals under the tutelage of the strong and silent Nils. Meanwhile, 17-year-old Yasha and his beloved baker-father, Vassily (“if the Danishes are sour, one babka on me”), gleefully ditch their home in Brighton Beach to take a summer trip back to the motherland. But the trip, such as it was, ends in tragedy, and Yasha, too, finds himself in Lofoten, now unmoored and unattached. And so Frances and Yasha—united by their separate losses, united by being the sorts of people who deal with those losses by building new and inherently temporary lives at an Arctic Viking Museum—fall into an unlikely kind of romance. Dinerstein’s writing is light and lyrical, and her descriptions of the far north are intoxicating. Yasha and Frances and the cast of sitcom-ready Norwegian misfits who staff the museum are engaging and sad and quirky, if not particularly substantial. It hardly matters, though, because the heart and soul of the novel belongs to the fathers: Yasha’s father, with his bakery and his deep optimism and his broken heart, and Frances’ father, a colossally talented medical illustrator who, in late middle age, seems to be methodically disassembling the life he’s built. As the rest of the novel fades into memory, it’s the fathers, in their supporting roles, who linger long after the last page.
A poetic premise with language to match.