cover image First Comes Summer

First Comes Summer

Maria Hesselager, trans. from the Danish by Martin Aitken. Riverhead, $28 (224p) ISBN 978-0-593-54260-6

Hesselager’s underwhelming debut centers on the incestuous relationship between a Viking brother and sister. Things start off with Folkví seemingly poisoning Gerd, the fiancée of her brother, Áslakr, though the scene is not fleshed out until the conclusion. In the interim, Folkví attempts to learn her mother’s trade as a midwife. While her brother is away on an expedition, she meets a suitor named Od, though that doesn’t stop her from being despondent when Áslakr returns and announces that he, too, has met someone. Folkví stumbles in her mother’s shadow and battles with her incestuous desire to hold onto her brother “at whatever cost” and to make him “want to possess me.” Áslakr, following a brief interlude with the Norns, who prophesy the impending end of the world, reflects on many of the same events covered in the novel’s first half while raising a child alone and anticipating the wedding of his daughter. The concluding revelation doesn’t compensate for the listless and florid narration that precedes it (Folkví, steeling herself for Áslakr’s departure, “will remain at home with her combative desires,” where “restlessness quivers in her body”). There’s a provocative premise, but not enough emerges from it. (Apr.)