STARRED REVIEW
June 2015

Finding freedom and friendship in Norway

By Rebecca Dinerstein
Review by
If there’s a life before this one where people are allowed to pick their parents, the two young protagonists of Rebecca Dinerstein’s debut novel came up snake eyes, or nearly so.
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If there’s a life before this one where people are allowed to pick their parents, the two young protagonists of Rebecca Dinerstein’s debut novel came up snake eyes, or nearly so. Three out of four of the parental units are nutcases; monstrously self-absorbed and melodramatic in ways that would suck the air out of the hangar of a jumbo jet. The one good parent, the Russian immigrant baker and father of Yasha, can do nothing against the energies of his estranged wife, even though he hasn’t seen her for 10 years. The parents of Frances are a tag-team of lunacy, made all the more unbearable by the fact that they all live in a New York apartment so tiny there’s hardly room for the fold-out bed in the living room. What can Frances do but escape to the back of beyond? In her case, this is Norway’s slice of the Arctic Circle, a place where the sun never sets during the height of summer.

Actually, Frances does have a reason to be in Norway. She has fled to an artist’s colony where she and this odd chap named Nils are the only artists. Their task is to paint a barn. Yasha also has reason to be in Norway, and that’s to bury his beloved father, who wanted to be interred at the top of the world. He is accompanied by his uncle and, alas, his mother, Olyana, who is incapable of toning down her self-obsession even a little bit.

Lots of writers have a place, real or imagined that simply possesses them. For Dinerstein, at least at this point in her young career, it’s northern Norway. She has already published a collection of bilingual poems set there, and she’s clearly enraptured by its austere beauty. It is a place of peace that encourages forbearance, if not forgiveness. The Norwegians are accepting, if a bit strange for living in a place of perpetual daylight. And Yasha and Frances are drawn together by the screwiness of it all. It seems that for Dinerstein’s characters, the sun does still shine in the darkest night after all.

 

This article was originally published in the June 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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The Sunlit Night

The Sunlit Night

By Rebecca Dinerstein
Bloomsbury
ISBN 9781632861122

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