cover image Evil Flowers

Evil Flowers

Gunnhild Øyehaug, trans. from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (128p) ISBN 978-0-374-60474-5

In this charming and inventive collection, Øyehaug (Knots) plays with narrative conventions to dazzling effect, braiding jokes with earnest accounts of heartbreak. In “Birds,” an ornithologist loses all her memories of birds, jeopardizing her career but recapturing the joy she once found in bird-watching with her family. The four competing narratives of the “Thread” series place a lonely, elderly woman in a room with a hungry lion. In “Thread 2,” a Greek chorus intervenes, playfully urging the author to give the encounter a happy ending. In “Short Monster Analysis,” a woman wonders whether holding a 20-year grudge against a cruel lover makes her the monster in the story. And in the mysterious “By the Shack,” three women writers become trapped in a children’s book after a plane crash, where they live in a shack beneath stars that “click into place” in the sky. Charles Baudelaire, Inger Christensen, and Virginia Woolf are touchstones throughout, and in “Wish, Dream, Observation,” the narrator takes a crack at Henrik Ibsen’s constant presence in Norway, even when he is “not there.” Øyehaug often takes a postmodern swerve, highlighting how stories can be used to distance readers from their emotions but also to acknowledge and process them. This scintillating collection shouldn’t be missed. (Feb.)