Professor Jerry’s påskekrim picks

Crime Corner

It’s påskekrim season again—and that means it’s time to stock up on some great reads for the Easter days ahead. Here’s what’s new on the Norwegian front! Warning: Be prepared to bundle up… and to get locked up! Does this sound like Stephen King territory? Yes—and even one of our titles demonstrate how much of that territory.

A Shining, by Jon Fosse, is not to be confused with that famous shining, The Shining, with the scary hotel and THAT BATHTUB that Stephen King unleashed on the world back in the ’70s. This one is a novella by 2023’s Norwegian Nobel Prize winner, as readers around the globe will know (see Jon Fosse wins Nobel Prize in Literature). Fosse has distinguished himself in both fiction and drama, dealing mostly in the surreal. His Nobel citation tells us his award is for his “innovative stories and plays, which give voice to the unsayable.”

I am not sure whether Fosse is writing “the unsayable,” or whether he is just not saying it, but A Shining is, to my mind, obscure to a fault. A man goes out driving and ends up in a dense forest as it starts to snow. In fact, it doesn’t just snow—it snows up a blizzard. In what is arguably not the wisest decision, our protagonist treks out on foot, causing us readers to slog and suffer just as he does. If ever there were a Hot Buttered Rum book, this is it: within just a few pages, you’ll be rustling up a warm blanket. From the book’s first words—“I was taking a drive. It felt nice. It felt good to be moving”—the story morphs quickly from idyll to nightmare: this fellow is going to freeze and die out there if a) he doesn’t find his way out or b) somebody finds him. The second possibility is highly unlikely, since nobody but Our Narrator seems foolish enough to venture out in this snowcalypse.

I am certainly not one to criticize an author who has racked up the writing honors that Fosse has, but I have to say that I found myself curiously unmoved by A Shining. I understand the metaphor of the snowstorm for the world of non-communication we dwell in: how often, like our protagonist, we reach out for each other as in a sociological blizzard where the visibility level seems to be zero. And I certainly am no stranger to the Fallible Narrator device so patented by Joseph Conrad and Henry James and certainly William Faulkner: I feel quite comfortable with narrators who lie to me, and whose perceptions you can’t always trust. I like the passage in this book where our antihero believes he sees his own mother in the swirling snow:

“… I don’t understand anything, whose voice this is, and what it’s doing here, deep in the dark woods. I shout: who are you. The voice says: can’t you tell from my voice, I’m your mother, can’t you tell it’s your mother, don’t you recognize your own mother’s voice, unbelievable, not recognize your own mother’s voice—and I think that this isn’t my mother’s voice.”

If you enjoy this level of ambiguity, this semi-stream of consciousness novella just might be the read for you. But for me, those 70-plus pages before we actually arrive at the mystery (Unsolved? Solved?) of the “shining” was a long and murky trip. I wish you a better experience.

The “Mother” passage does put me in mind of Hanne Ørstavik’s neglected 1999 novel The Blue Room. Ørstavik, who has built quite a readership in the intervening years, deals in the dark side of the human heart, and The Blue Room (it’s her bedroom) channels Stephen King just as much as Fosse does, with a truly creepy narrative dealing with Johanne, a shy and furtive sort who has been locked in her Oslo bedroom by a mother who would make a great bridge partner for King’s Annie Wilkes, from his novel Misery.

Mom’s a chain-smoking zealot, who doesn’t want her daughter to go to the United States with her sometime lover, Ivar, who has offered to take her to Pennsylvania for six weeks. The publishers, Pierene Books, have chosen to front the book with a quote from Meike Ziervogel of that organization who boldly informs us that “Everyone who has read Fifty Shades of Grey should read this book. Why? The Blue Room holds up a mirror to a part of the female psyche that yearns for submission.”

Well, maybe. Johanne, to be sure, has many issues and more than a few fantasies, usually of the sadomasochistic variety, but hey—it gets boring locked in a bedroom with nothing to eat and only a can to whiz in. Ziervogel goes ahead to tell us that “The story shows how erotic fantasies are formed by the relationship with our parents,” and while I don’t quite see that in the narrative, I do understand that the book is trying to deal with the complexities of the traditional mother-daughter relationship in a different and powerful way. While the major tension in the book depends on whether Johanne will choose to go with Ivar or stay with Mom, that tension runs thin because, of course, as long as Johanne is locked in that room she doesn’t have a choice at all.

Like A Shining, The Blue Room is a cold and bleak story, also told in a knockoff stream of consciousness manner that does reflect the desperation of Johanne’s plight:

“I should bang on the door, open the window, and yell out into the backyard so they hear me. But what should I say? That I’m locked in? They’ll think I’m mad. They’ll call the emergency psychiatric unit if, that is, they can be bothered.”

But don’t be afraid you’ll be stuck in that room with Johanne. Along with her fantasy life her memory is acute and wildly active: in a very real sense she remembers her life to date in sometimes a little too graphic detail, but she’s never boring—and often more insightful than she, as another fallible narrator, might herself realize.

HAPPY PÅSKEKRIM, everybody! And jump right in: the reading out there is great!!!

This article originally appeared in the March 2024 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Jerry Holt

Jerry Holt is a novelist, playwright, teacher, and public speaker. He is professor emeritus of English at Purdue University Northwest and a recipient of Purdue's 2015 Dreamer Award, recognized for work as that has "embodied Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of service to others.” Holt has written four major plays, one novel, and nine short plays. His acclaimed novel, The Killing of Strangers, focuses on several mysteries surrounding the Kent State University shootings on May 4, 1970.