A Sudden Liberating Thought
A collection of precisely observed short stories, wherein the mundane has meaning, and the unusual is commonplace; most of the men are disgusted at the thought of the moment of their conception, old men have weak hearts, and chess is invariably suggested as means for estranged relatives to pass the time. Women are usually more sensible, but equally ineffable. No one – especially if young – knows why they they act as they do and ‘the world isn’t what it used to be’ (187). The world-weariness and emptiness (‘Godlessness’?) of every moment becomes a bit tiring. To be read slowly, in the evenings, avoiding excess. It is a shame that the story ‘Thomas F’s Last Notes for the General Public’ is placed near the end of the collection, as it is wonderfully representative of all that is good in these stories, from the clear and unreliable characters, to the resigned humor in the face of change:
It’s been a long time since I stopped discussing finances with people who say they are losing money on something they could get rid of, it must be thirty years now, so I said nothing. But he didn’t require a rejoinder in order to go on. He held forth about all the other buildings of his which also showed a deficit, it was pitiful to listen to – he must’ve been a very poor capitalist. But I didn’t say a word, and eventually his lamentations came to an end – it was high time. Instead he asked for no apparent reason whether I believed in God. I was on the verge of asking which god he was referring to but contented myself with shaking my head (198).
By the time one reaches it, though, one already knows Askildsen’s tricks. Which is not, I suppose, necessarily a bad thing. ‘Carl Lange’ the story of a translator not quite accused of statutory rape, and the title story are also superb.