Feb 15, 2011

Valentines from Iceland

Valentines: stories, by Olaf Olafsson. New York: Pantheon, 2007. 216 pgs.

Do you like depressing books? Such as, those by Annie Proulx? Shipping News is one of my favorite books, but her subsequent ones are really, I mean really depressing.

Olaf Olafsson is another favorite author of mine. Like Annie, he is the author of books that, if you pick one up to read for 5 minutes, an hour and a half later you come back to reality with a start, and reluctantly put the book down. He is a  brilliant author who can immediately get you inside his protagonist's head. Olafsson's books are psychological studies of complex and disturbed individuals whose lives are revealed to the reader little by little.  I want to read anything that Olafsson writes, but the reviews for Valentines hadn't left me as eager to read it, so it took me a few years to get around to it.

Just like his other books, I couldn't put this one down. I read it in two sittings: both times when I intended to just read for a few minutes. This short story collection is organized in a series of 12 stories, each titled for a month of the year. Each is an ironic play on the title, for the characters exhibit every type of falling-apart relationship. Mis-understandings, missed connections, misplaced trust. Month after month, I fervently hoped for a positive note, a redeemed character, a regained relationship: a happy ending. Would I find it in October? In November, perhaps? WHAT ABOUT DECEMBER?

We know that the author is an Icelander living in New York; an accomplished scholar and a successful business executive; a husband and the father of three (three children; three novels). Reading this book makes you seriously wonder what kind of relationships he has. Perhaps he has learned from the mistakes of his characters, and has achieved the happiness that they find so elusive. I certainly hope so.


John said...

I love depressing books. It is a good antidote to the ineffable cheeriness of my household.

Rose said...

I'm not cheery in the morning.