Many People Die Like You by Lina Wolff, translated from the Swedish by Saskia Vogel
Published by And Other Stories, 2020
My rating: ⭐ ⭐
In principal, this collection of short stories held lots of promise, as I love the idea of wicked, wry twists on every day domestic life. But if there was a running theme throughout the stories, it was an interesting setup that just never seemed to go anywhere. I don’t mind a lack of narrative conclusion in a piece of short fiction if there is some obvious thematic or emotional resonance in its place, but sadly I just failed to connect with Wolff’s style in any meaningful way. As each story fizzled out rather limply, I was consistently left wondering what the author even intended to say.
If there was one standout that made the collection worthwhile, for me it would have to be Misery Porn. We follow a man who begins a relationship with his neighbour, who livestreams footage of herself crying as entertainment. He is soon drawn into his girlfriend’s work, but as things escalate, it becomes clear that she thrives on heartache in ways that make him deeply uncomfortable and which could endanger them both. Again, I think it would have benefitted from a stronger ending, but it offered an interesting reversal of the abuser/victim dynamic, commenting on toxic relationships and society’s obsession with suffering.
Other near highlights were a story about a man who discovers his wife has been cheating on him when her lover turns up on their doorstep asking for a place to stay, and a story about an elderly woman who embarks on a fling with her much younger piano teacher, much to the shock of their community. It was setups like these that proved Wolff has great ideas when it comes to plot and character dynamics; I just couldn’t gel with the execution in the vast majority of cases, unfortunately.
On a more positive note, however, some of the stories were written while the author lived in Spain, and I think she is able to invoke both Swedish and Spanish settings with the same ease. For those who love subtly discomfiting, slice-of-life stories that explore an idea more than a narrative or an emotion, this may work considerably better for you than it did for me.
Thank you to the publisher for a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. You can pick up Many People Die Like You by clicking here.