Fiction: Kevin Honolds ‘Molly’ – WSJ

Three miles from the remote New Mexico City of Santa Juana de Arco is a mesa, writes Kevin Honold in his novel “Molly,” and on that mesa there is a trailer in which a 9-year-old boy named Raymond has been sent to stay with his uncle Edward. It’s 1968 – Raymond recalls events from the contemplative distance of adulthood – but not much of world affairs has penetrated the mountains. Raymond’s education comes in the form of a handful of adults, a few books from a mobile library, and the wordless guidance of the natural world. He is alone, but not unhappy, as he reflects, “the loneliness of childhood has this quality: it is visionary. Childhood provides a measure of neutrality that allows the child to wander freely between two worlds.” There is no boundary between the wonders of the landscape and his imagination.


By Kevin Honold

Autumn house

212 pages

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It is therefore not surprising that natural spectacles are at the top of Raymond’s memories, from the “great Gothic drama” of a desert sunset to an above-ground image of a July monsoon: magical islands that follow torn roots of rain that never touch the earth. “

The other subject of his appreciation is the woman with the book’s title, who one day arrives at the trailer with Raymond’s uncle, a kind of troubled past behind her. When Edward suddenly dies while fighting a forest fire, Molly and Raymond are thrown together, a pair of desert shipwrecks. This gives them a wild form of freedom, and chapters follow their unhindered explorations into the mountains and down the Santa Juana River, sometimes accompanied by other desert eccentrics. It also leaves them unprotected from the violent city sheriff, whose design on Molly sets the novel’s plot in motion.

Behind this simple and touching story is Raymond’s attempt to deepen the worldview that permeates his upbringing, which he thinly calls “the old philosophy of forms.” This is the realization that everything under the sun, from the rocks to the coyotes to the fighting humans, possesses its own essential integrity. All are part of the great shadow dance of change and disappearance, yet instilled with some eternal “inherent value.” Molly embodies this philosophy, and the authorship is inspired by her generosity, her resilience through adversity, and her spirit of patience (“the most serious form of intelligence,” writes Mr. Honold). These excursions of ideas fit organically into the novel’s fine sense of place. There is a particularly satisfying suitability when the beauties of the American Southwest inspire a beautiful book – which “Molly” is.

Antarctica of Love

By Sara Stridsberg; Translated by Deborah Bragan-Turner

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

272 pages

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The Swedish novelist Sara Stridsberg’s “Antarctica of Love” turns on a moment of absolute horror and desolation. A man has taken a woman he has paid to meet to a remote forest outside Stockholm. There he strangles her to death and mutilates her body, which is only discovered weeks later. The murder is retold by the restless ghost of the woman, named Inni, who appears to be hovering in a temporal purgatory and observing the torments of her shocked survivors as she relives her slide into heroin addiction and prostitution.

But time and time again, Inni returns to her murder, where she lives, in Deborah Bragan-Turner’s appropriately rigorous translation, on the emptiness of her surroundings, her sense of hopeless resignation (“You must learn to love your destiny, or at least accept it) . ”) And the terrible intimacy between killer and victim. Sometimes Mrs. Stridsberg compares the killing to a reverse adventure involving Snow White and the Hunter. Elsewhere, she portrays it as a kind of anti-gospel, a scene of meaningless suffering without miracles or meaning to redeem it. The perceived absence of God is a wound that has mostly closed in American literature (where the effects are hidden, if not unconscious), but in this novel it remains gnawing and raw.

The book’s lack of subtlety seems artistically justified in terms of depictions of the murder, which are frightening and insidious. Literature has an unhealthy tendency to glamorize sociopaths, so there is a disturbing sense of justice in the novel’s insistent focus on the life of a forgotten victim. But Inni’s life itself is less convincing, given Mrs Stridsberg’s decision to portray it as completely loveless and miserable. Such a gloomy consistency is going to feel like an outburst, as if Inni was less the victim of fate than for a writer who persistently pressed a point. “We’re coming from nowhere, on our way to nowhere in particular,” Inni thinks. This dark story is just a stopover on the journey.

A dream life

By Claire Messud

Tablo tales

136 pages

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With the short stand-alone work “A Dream Life”, Claire Messud returns to the short story for the first time since her collection “The Hunters” in 2001. The story follows Armstrongs’ move from New York to Sydney in 1971 after Teddy’s promotion in his bank. The family of four is surprised to find that the home they have rented invisibly is huge, “a British mansion in miniature”. This is an ambivalent luxury for Teddy’s wife, Alice, a working girl from Buffalo, NY, who finds herself thrown into the unfamiliar role of the “lady of the house” who oversees a staff of hired help.

At the heart of the book is Alice’s awkward (albeit sometimes dizzying) transformation into a member of the aristocracy. Ms. Messud is excellent for the complications of finding and managing household workers and holding garden parties – or “parties”, as the top crust primarily calls them. Carefully observed domestic details are thrown into relief by the feeling of disorientation that undermines the narrative, as when Alice, who provides the house’s endless cleaning, is “attacked by the randomness, the strange irrelevance of her Australian existence.”

Not the whole “A Dream Life” strikes me as successful. In particular, the ending is strangely anticlimactic given the richness of the book’s characters and conflicts. But Mrs. Messud is clearly suited to the compact form of the short story, living by the details of the sentences, but being able to retreat to see the mystery of the whole.

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