cover image Everything Like Before

Everything Like Before

Kjell Askildsen, trans. from the Norwegian by Seán Kinsella. Archipelago, $21 (330p) ISBN 978-1-939810-94-6

This ruminative, gloomy collection draws from five decades of Askildsen’s career, including some translations previously collected in Selected Stories. “A Lovely Spot” and others feature dialogues between romantic partners, while many, such as “Encounter,” explore sibling or father and son relationships. The book-length “Thomas F’s Last Notes to the Public” comprises the outstanding “Carl Lange,” where an old man suspected of a crime finds his free will and, eventually, his actions constrained (and perhaps dictated) by the accusation; and 10 shorts in which a man bids farewell to family, friends, himself, and the world. In many stories, the erosion of years or the abrasion of physical interaction has worn away any protective layers in the characters’ frosty relationships, leaving the players exposed, at or past the point of dissolution. The étude-like studies reveal Askildsen’s effort to resolve recurrent themes, such as lovers facing insecurities or infidelity, family members chaffing at frayed affections, and comity plagued by mistrust and resignation. The lengthier works shine brightest, among them “A Sudden Liberating Thought,” in which a Beckett-like series of encounters between two old men becomes a discourse on euthanasia; and “Mardon’s Night,” where three people’s thoughts and actions blur in enigmatic blocks of text. While as a whole the collection can be exhausting, this definitive volume brims with stellar material. This is best consumed in small doses. (Apr.)