Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Come Together" by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Issue: February 17th & 24th, 2014

Story: "Come Together"

Author: Karl Ove Knausgaard

I read this story about a week ago and therefore it had a long time to sink in. Usually when I wait that long to write my blog post, something from the story has rattled around in my brain long enough to be just rearing to jump out on the page. Not so in this case, I'm afraid.

What we have here is a fairly textbook awkward tween-ager story of love and romance, set in Norway and translated from Norwegian. Knowing that it's creative non-fiction (essentially memoir) is important here because, in and of itself, I think the story falls a bit flat. I can see, however, how it might work as part of a larger narrative arch about this author's life, and in fact, it is part of a forthcoming volume of his behemoth My Struggle series (this volume is Boyhood), which is supposedly slated for some six volumes or something.

In the story, Karl Ove is about twelve or 13 and an ardent music geek with tastes far more esoteric and advanced than those of his peers. Therefore, he's not exactly in the "In Crowd" but he's not a complete outcast either; he plays soccer, he starts a band. Basically, he's an average kid. One day he gets a crush on a schoolgirl from a nearby town and they begin a flirtation. Emulating behaviors he has seen from other, less cerebral boys with their own girlfriends, Karl Ove tries to do the things he thinks a boy should do with his girlfriend, except his efforts only drive his girlfriend away. He was able to get her, he just couldn't keep her, and his heartache is profound.

Experiences of the kind depicted in this story are fairly common among junior-high age kids who are testing out the new rules of the game they've been thrust into: adolescence. Some of them jump right in and swim like fish; others, like Karl Ove here, have pretty traumatic experiences and the emotional scars to prove it. This story resonated with me only because I had some similarly pathetic and and awkward experiences with most guys probably did at one point.

However, what's missing is an explanation of why this incident stayed with the author through the years. It seems to have been slightly traumatic, yes, but he spends so much time (way too long) on the ascension of the relationship that there is no time left to explore the aftermath or any possible lessons learned. I'd have liked to see Karl Ove make his tragic female blunder in the middle or the story, or even the beginning, and watch him try and deal with the aftermath or pick himself up. As it was, we get a long drawn out build up to something we kind of secretly know is going to happen; then when it happens it's as if the air is let out of the balloon and that's it.

There is a sort of okay theme here about how music can help save your soul from the bitter despair of times like these in our lives, but it feels un-earned and poorly thought-out. Just because you drop a bunch of song lyrics and album titles into a story doesn't mean you're automatically on some higher plane of understanding where life and music fuse into one and everyone is supposed to stand back and marvel at how inter textual you are. Far from it; in fact, in most cases, I've found it to be a turn-off.

All that being said, I reserve judgement on this author just yet and will have to read something(s) else by him in order to get a better sense of what he's about.


Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review #146: "Three Short Moments in a Long Life" by John L'Heureux

Issue: May 9, 2016

Story: "Three Short Moments in a Long Life" by John L'Heureux

Rating: $

Review: I feel like this is a somewhat tired technique, straight out of Creative Writing 101: write a story consisting of three or four different snapshots or snippets out of a character's life at different ages, sort of like a series of written photographs. Fun perhaps, but strikes me as a bit amateurish. However, I also think L'Heureux succeeds here by pushing it a bit further, playing with the character's tentative attempts at something close to faith -- in childish, adult, and mature adult ways -- and tying all three "Short Moments" together in a subtle and readily decipherable way.

L'Heureux's prose and his frank humor and his ability to glorify and find the meaning in the mundane events and thoughts of every day life, and thereby turn the life of an ordinary person into a drama with meaning and significance puts me in mind of John Irving. As well a…

New Yorker Fiction Review #151: "The Bog Girl" by Karen Russell

From the June 20 issue...

My loyal readers (if there are still any, which I doubt) will know I'm usually not a fan of Magical Realism, which, as you may also know, is Karen Russell's stock in trade. That said, there's nothing I love more than having my antipathy for magical realism shattered by an awesome story like "The Bog Girl."

Briefly, an Irish teenager discovers the body of a young woman who as been buried in a bog for over 2,000 years and begins to date her. What more do you need, right? If I'd read that one-line description somewhere else, and wasn't on a mission to review every New Yorker short story, I doubt I'd have read "The Bog Girl." But maybe I should start doing a George Costanza and do the opposite of everything I think I should do.

Where Russell succeeds here is in two main areas: 1.) Making us really love Cillian, the teenager who falls in love with the bog girl, and 2.) pulling the unbelievable trick making the characters…

Water Review: San Pellegrino 250ml Bottle

Damn you, tiny little bottle of San Pellegrino. So little. So cute. But what are you really good for other than to make me wish I had a full bottle of Pellegrino? 
Good as a palate cleanser after a nice double espresso, I will give it that. But little else. The suave yet chaotic burst of Pellegrino bubbliness is still there, but with each sip you feel the tragedy of being that much closer to the end of the bottle, that much faster.

This is a bottle of water made specifically for the frustrated, for the meticulous, for the measurers among us with a penchant for the dainty. This water does not love you in the wild, on a sunny porch or with the raucous laughter of friends. No...much the opposite. Whatever that may be.

Best drunk in tiny, tiny sips, while forcing oneself through an unreadable and depressing Russian novel one does not want to read but feels one should, on a cold, wet day in December that promises four months of gloom and depression...or in pairs or threes and poured over …