Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Child Wonder by Roy Jacobsen

Child Wonder: A Novel (The Lannan Translation Series263)
is the story of a boy, his widowed mother, and her reckless decision to take her stepdaughter into their household.

There is something not quite right with the little girl: "Linda was not of this world," the child narrator, Finn, tells us, "one day I would come to understand this -- she was a Martian come down to earth to speak in tongues to heathens, French to Norwegians and Russian to Americans."

Her ailment is developmental, in the head, but never fully revealed by the author, a practice he applies to other issues haunting the family throughout the length of the piece.

Sensing the profile of these issues, while never being fed a full rasher of details, creates a degree of dramatic tension, though the real purpose may be to put us on equal footing with the story's children, around whom it truly revolves.

The kids do not know everything that goes on around them, nor does the reader, which may or may not be a good thing.

There is not much of plot to "Child Wonder." It covers the year after Linda moves in, measures the growing distance between Finn and his inscrutable mom, and their interaction with a lodger whom circumstances have forced upon them.

The book wanders, meanders, not tied down to the usual overarching plot and cohort of subtexts; a series of events that unfold and build up, sort of, to the ending, and author Roy Jacobson is in no hurry to divulge them.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just so you know.

If you've read your fair share of dysfunctional family dramas, the real novelty to "Child Wonder" may turn out to be where it is situated. The novel unfolds in Norway, which renders it, for the uninitiated, something of a passport to a small country not very much in the headlines, but worthy of revelation to the curious among us.

For certain, you'll not recognize "the old style swimming belts, lined with reindeer fur," nor the heavily public and collective way people exist with one another, in the 1960s, as post-World War II Europe begins to spread its economic wings.

The translation's English is England's English. You may have to skate over the fact Finn has a "quiff," although this and other expressions not common to stateside usage lend a touch of color to the white, frozen, and crystallized backdrop across which the tale is writ.

"Child Wonder," will not blow you away, shock you out of your shoes, or haunt you long. It's impact is indirect, its motives and purpose well below the surface of the page, working hard to demonstrate what becomes of our hearts and souls with age.

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