cover image The Birth of Emma K.

The Birth of Emma K.

Zsolt Láng, trans. from the Hungarian by Owen Good and Ottilie Mulzet. Seagull, $24.50 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-0-85742-986-5

Láng makes his English-language debut with a mixed bag of stories, some of which feature the voices of celestial beings and unborn babies. The cheeky opener, “God on Gellért Hill,” has Jesus slinking around Budapest, where he draws two ex-lovers together only to watch their reunion end in disaster. In “Loneliness,” an aging actor sparks a relationship with a reporter whose main interest is writing a scoop on her dalliances with a competing publisher’s father-in-law, while in “Chestnut,” rival homeopaths are assigned the same hotel room and vie for the same colleague’s attention. “Before Midnight” functions as a comedy of errors, as a man’s evening snowballs after he is mistaken for an expert on Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. “Madhouse” follows an institutionalized man and one of his supervisors as the duo swap levels of sanity, and the title story chronicles the eventual birth of a baby girl whose perspective recounts her long journey to life after a series of failed abortion attempts. Láng’s stories contain tangents and extraneous characters that add to the atmosphere, yet these copious narrative threads can feel unnecessarily dense. As such, the collection too often reads as a series of unfocused yarns that only occasionally deliver. (June)