Rock, Paper, Scissors

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Thanks to Open Letter’s “Danish Women Writers Series,” which has largely been funded by the Danish Arts Foundation, we are now able to read in translation some of the most challenging new writing coming out of Denmark today.

First up is ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS by Naja Marie Aidt (ably translated by K.E. Semmel). Aidt, a poet and short-story writer, sets her novel in an unnamed city–-if it’s Copenhagen, it’s been well-disguised-–where Thomas O’Mally Lindstrom is unsteadily trying to navigate his way through life. Though superficially successful–he is co-owner of an elegant stationery shop–Thomas is deeply neurotic and unstable. The child of a petty gangster and an absent mother, he is haunted by his adolescent demons, given to
abrupt mood swings, wild bursts of laughter and tears.

His precarious hold on life is threatened when he finds a bundle of money hidden away in his late father’s apartment. The money is obviously illicit but he decides to keep it, despite suspicious inquiries from the mob. This sets in motion a series of sinister and violent acts which will eventually result in the disintegration of his fragile psyche.

ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS isn’t pure noir, though. The book is packed with many sympathetic and likable characters, including Thomas’ corpulent and wise-cracking partner, Maloney; his significant (and sexy) other, Patricia; and his 18-year-old hippy niece Alice, who grows into a surprisingly wise maturity over the course of the novel’s 345 pages. Aidt’s skill at characterization jumps out in the book’s best section, in which Thomas’ family comes together for a long weekend in the countryside. A dozen-odd relatives, both young and old, spend three days and nights together, eating, drinking, sleeping, telling jokes, spouting poetry, taking hikes, fishing for perch, bickering and fighting. The whole human comedy is played out here, with Aidt conducting the symphony with all the confidence and skill of a Toscanini.

ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS is the work of a gifted novelist, one who is able to move language around and tell a story in nimble fashion. (