cover image My Men

My Men

Victoria Kielland, trans. from the Norwegian by Damion Searls. Astra House, $25 (200p) ISBN 978-1-66260-192-7

The provocative English-language debut from Kielland chronicles a real-life serial killer active during the turn of the 20th century in America. Brynhilde Belle Gunness, 17, emigrates from Norway in 1876 after her lover, the eldest son of a wealthy farming family, kicked her in the stomach upon hearing that she was pregnant with their child and caused her to miscarry. She joins her pious older sister, Nellie, in Chicago, where she attempts to be a “God-fearing” person like Nellie and bond with her nieces and nephews. In church, Belle wills her shoulders to “relax in the sight of God,” but what she really wants is a new sexual partner. She lets a man named Mads Sørensen seduce her, and moves in with him before they get married, prompting Nellie to cut her off from the children. She then marries Mads, who dies in 1900 under mysterious circumstances after the couple adopted three children. Belle remarries and takes custody of two more children, all of whom witness her murder a series of men. The asynchronous narrative builds a sense of foreboding as Belle meets various men who become her victims. Her spiritual yearning and profane desires are captured in dynamic and subversive prose as Kielland explores how Belle’s homicidal tendencies derive from a perverted sense of love. It’s an impressive feat of historical imagination. (June)