A Fortune Foretold

Written by Agneta Pleijel Marlaine Delargy (trans.)
Review by Rebecca Kightlinger

Mid-twentieth century Sweden. By the time Neta is in the 6th grade, she has been “the new girl” so many times, “she feels the familiar chafing of being an outsider, the gnawed sensation that comes from being painfully compelled to see herself through the eyes of others. That is the worst thing of all. You are out of yourself, fumbling blindly.”

An outsider at school, Neta becomes increasingly embroiled in her parents’ failing marriage. “Dad tells stories, does the dishes, and tries to cheer everyone up, but it doesn’t help. When he notices that none of this makes Mom feel any better, he becomes distant, as if a veil is drawn over his face.” As her father retreats, Neta becomes the bulwark between her depressed mother and her mother’s disappointing, unfulfilled life.

It is therefore Ricki—Neta’s calm, stable aunt, an architect “surrounded by a magic all her own,”—whom Neta most wishes to emulate. “I am trying to remember Ricki, but I am the one who takes center stage. Or rather she does—the girl.”

The narrator relates her coming of age in third-person, present-tense, non-linear scenes, referring to her younger self as “the girl” or “she” and peppering her story with first-person, past-tense reminiscence and commentary. This dissociated narrative style occasionally proves unwieldy when time and place become unclear or when the identity of “she” comes into question, but it adroitly complements the narrator’s striving to reassemble and reconcile a distant, chaotic, peripatetic life. Highly recommended.