One of the best contemporary short story collections I’ve read, Takolander’s fictions are intellectual, dark, strange and often dystopian. The tone is of casual realism, but what’s described is beyond that: fantastical, nightmarish or just off; my favourite kind of fiction. If you like Kafka or Beckett, or MJ Hyland for that matter, you’ll like Takolander; or if you find meaninglessness meaningful. Or if you like your imagery as dark crystals:
a woman remembering her brothers’ ‘white bodies shatter the black mirror of the lake. Immediately they are sucked below’ (from ‘The Double’).
Objects that speak to a man, like a strap that says ‘hang on’ and doors that say ‘out you get’ (in ‘The Obscene Bird of Night’).
A man weeping in a diner as a woman called Svetlana cuts his steak. A dog outside keeps barking. And starlings are ‘[s]weeping through the insects. Their noise as shrill as panic. Their tiny hearts like ticking bombs’ (from ‘Three Sisters’).
The stories don’t seem to say ‘can you imagine?’ but ‘somewhere this all happens’.
The stories in the first part all have the names of books. In ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ men are eaten away by desires. But what is the student’s mother fading from? Violent masculine scrutiny? This realist story could be the darkest of all.
There’s an element of satire in the final pieces which all concern a mythical text and poet. They revolve around people associated with the study and care-taking of words: academics, a librarian, judge of a poetry competition (who suffers the severe effects of a concrete poem).
At the heart of these (and carried through the collection) is some nod to ambition: it’s displayed as a straw-sucked egg in the face of all the words already out there, and all the nothing.