Swallowed by the Cold: Stories by Jensen Beach

swallowed by the cold In “The Apartment,” Beach writes, “Our individual memories of a shared event mean such different things to each of us.” This idea drives Beach’s overly ambitious but mostly solid second collection, both thematically and structurally. In the first part of “The Village of Elmsta,” a man’s swift death following a bicycle fall near a canal is ignored by a group of revelers passing by on a boat. The story’s second half, told from the perspective of Henrik, the captain, shows why: he was too preoccupied by his mistress, Helle, to notice the tragedy unfolding ashore. But their affair isn’t all passion and bliss; a later story, “Anniversary,” alludes to insecurities and unequal footing between Henrik and Helle. Throughout the rest of these 16 interlinked stories set in Sweden, characters’ morally ambiguous actions continue to simultaneously provoke readers’ judgment and invite compassion. In “The Apartment,” a woman named Louise gets sloppy drunk while remembering an old fling with a newly deceased neighbor. But in “Kino” and “In the Night of the Day Before,” which occupy earlier spots in the collection, we know why she’s dissatisfied: her closeted husband, Martin, ignores her in favor of frequenting a gay club showing X-rated videos. While some of the offerings are more grounded than others—”February 22, 1944″ and “The Right-Hand Traffic Diversion,” though vividly described, seem too removed from the main story line—the collection memorably depicts how selfish humans can be, and how often we’re alienated from one another. (May.)

Originally ran in Publishers Weekly (March 21, 2016)

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