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176 pages; Vintage
Tidbeck's superb, surrealistic story collection opens: "Franz Hiller, a physician, fell in love with an airship." It's an irresistible line that hints at the virtues contained in the ensuing pages: surprising premises depicted with a plainspoken, fable-like grace. In "Miss Nyberg and I," a woman grows a personal companion as if it were a plant; "Rebecka" is set in a time when the Second Coming has already occurred, creating its own complications; and in "Who Is Arvid Pekon?" a worker at a government call center seems to have the power to connect people to their dead relatives. But Tidbeck, who translated these stories from her native Swedish, isn't stressing the weirdness of these setups so much as using them to remind us of our quirky human nature, as fairy tales and folklore so often do. Nightmares and spirits populate the powerful "Reindeer Mountain," but at heart it's about family ties and the fear of madness passing down through generations. And "Beatrice," the story about that airship-loving doctor, becomes a surprisingly tender look at the nature of love and companionship, and a smart allegory about misunderstanding and mistreatment. A must-read for anybody looking for a jolt of something new and provocative.
— Mark Athitakis