cover image The American Girl

The American Girl

Monika Fagerholm, , trans. from the Swedish by Katarina E. Tucker. . Other Press, $15.95 (528pp) ISBN 978-1-59051-304-0

This third, unusual novel from Fagerholm (Wonderful Women by the Sea ) is a hypnotic coming-of-age story that hinges on a dark but powerful bond between two Finnish girls growing up in the swamplands of outer Helsinki. Born to jet-setter parents, timid young Sandra finds strength by clinging to obstinate, wild-eyed Doris, who is no stranger to dysfunction herself: her mother has a “hundred thousand excuses for beating her daughter.” The two begin to obsess over an unsolved death that haunts the town. Making up games in abandoned pools, basements, and the muddy marshlands, the girls dress alike and begin to form solipsistic creeds, such as the belief that “suffering has developed a hidden power in us that makes it so that we can see what no one else sees.” The fractured work can by trying—there’s no straight chronology, and sentences are frequently appealingly off-balance (kudos to Tucker for the slick translation)—but Fagerholm’s esoteric prose and her omnipotent narrator’s eye bring to life a world of ambient longings, cryptic memories, and ethereal figures. (Feb.)