Things start to change when Amy’s landlord, Gary, begins inviting her over for weekly dinners to hone his cooking skills for the eventual arrival of his Ukrainian fiancée. As they become closer, Amy grows more immersed in an elaborate self-delusion: To boost her confidence, she attempts to administer herself a “placebo” to convince herself she’s already a certified E.M.T. Her plan backfires, and before long Amy finds herself back where she started.
This is an imperfect debut: Scenes drag, the dialogue is stilted. Amy’s back story doesn’t much help to explain why she does the things she does. Feeling optimistic about Gary, Amy thinks, “We had our own story, and it was just as compelling as any other.” McClorey manages to capture the human desire to shape our lives with narratives — and how devastating it can be when reality departs from them.
By Thora Hjorleifsdottir
Translated by Meg Matich
199 pp. Black Cat. Paper, $16.
In a preamble, Hjorleifsdottir writes that this book is “populated by characters who speak to the realities that women have long lived in silence.” She dedicates it “to those who have spoken out.”
Unfortunately for such an important subject, the ensuing novel — about Lilja, a 20-year-old woman devoted to her abusive boyfriend — renders characters as flat, didactic archetypes rather than fully fleshed-out individuals.
Many of these brief chapters of spare prose, some just a few sentences long, read like the diary entries of a girl much younger than 20. “Everything is empty and pointless compared with him,” Lilja says. “I feel like I could leave my self behind just to love this man.” (Hjorleifsdottir, also a poet, wrote “Magma” in Icelandic — it’s possible some of that language’s subtlety is lost in translation.)
The turns Lilja’s relationship takes are all too familiar, and hard to watch: Her boyfriend belittles and controls her while sleeping with other women he meets online. Lilja begins self-harming to cope. She’s convinced things will improve when they move in together, but his behavior and her mental health only worsen. Hjorleifsdottir’s skill is in showing how seamlessly an abuser can colonize a person’s entire life, piece by piece, so imperceptibly she doesn’t notice until it’s too late.