cover image Present Tense Machine

Present Tense Machine

Gunnhild Øyehaug, trans. from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (176p) ISBN 978-0-374237172

The playful and poignant latest from Øyehaug (Wait, Blink) unfurls the alternate realities that separate a mother and daughter. In 1998, Anna misreads the word “trädgård”—Swedish for “garden”—as the nonsense word “tärdgård,” and the slip-up sends her into a parallel universe. Her two-year-old daughter Laura has never existed, and she eventually gives birth to two new children, Peder and Elina. In the other universe, Laura grows up with no memory of Anna, and now an adult, she lives with her musician partner, Karl Peter, and is pregnant with her first child. Both women study literature, and they both sign up to take part in the same group piano concert of Satie’s “Vexations.” Yet while they’re sure something is missing from their lives, they fail to recall their bond. Øyehaug employs a metafictional narrator who frequently addresses the reader, noting that she’s writing while riding a bus and feeling dislocated, or reflecting on a Youtube video about astrophysics. Some of the mundane details of Anna’s, Laura’s, and the narrator’s lives slow the story, but the ruminations on existence and purpose consistently captivate. Ultimately, Øyehaug steers this to a wholly satisfying conclusion. Agent: Bjarne Buset, Gyldendal Norsk Forlag. (Jan.)