Stories that test the boundaries of the fictional imagination.


Fairy tales and bedtime stories for those dark nights of the soul.

The two stories bookending Rutherford's second collection find a father named Soren drawing from his imagination to ease his young sons toward sleep. Both stories become monstrously supernatural, pitting young boys against sea creatures who threaten to devour their souls. In "The Diver," the final story, Soren fears that his sons realize his tale has “gone off the rails” as a giant squid who flooded the hometown of two abandoned brothers battles a disembodied diver. And, yes, if this were a fable, it has likely lost its point, its moral. But it’s indicative of Soren's mental state, as he fears that his life, his marriage, his family, and his home are all going off the rails. The elements of plot in these stories are often strange and scary—two foxes kidnap a human child to raise as their own, a mother succumbs to spiritual illness, a baby’s illness is nightmarishly investigated at an impersonal hospital—and the contexts throughout are young families, young marriages, young children, and the perception of overwhelming threat facing them all. The stories they weave, which incorporate elements of memories, dreams, fears, and fables, don’t necessarily provide comfort or even much in the way of resolution. They don’t have a lesson except that people tell stories to seek order amid chaos, hope amid impending doom, a reason to keep going. The farthest-flung adventure is the title story, which finds a Norse grandfather, a talking penguin, and 25 children on an ill-fated expedition to the South Pole. “Enchantment, wonder...uncharted, limitless white,” marvels the penguin. There are hints that the whole story is unfolding within the grandfather’s mind or that the narrator is imagining what his grandfather is experiencing as he lies comatose for two months in the hospital. Yet each of these stories has that same white canvas, uncharted, to be filled.

Stories that test the boundaries of the fictional imagination.

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64605-047-5

Page Count: 184

Publisher: A Strange Object

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

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Eight people become unlikely friends during a hostage situation created by an inept bank robber.

In a town in Sweden, a desperate parent turns to bank robbery to help pay the rent. Unfortunately, the target turns out to be a cashless bank, which means that no robbery can take place. In an attempt to flee the police, the would-be perpetrator runs into a nearby apartment building and interrupts an open house, causing the would-be buyers to assume they're being held hostage. After the situation has ended with an absent bank robber and blood on the carpet, a father-and-son police pair work through maddening interviews with the witnesses: the ridiculous realtor; an older couple who renovates and sells apartments in an effort to stay busy; a bickering young couple expecting their first child; a well-off woman interested only in the view from the balcony of a significant bridge in her life; an elderly woman missing her husband as New Year’s Eve approaches; and, absurdly, an actor dressed as a rabbit hired to disrupt the showing and drive down the apartment price. Backman’s latest novel focuses on how a shared event can change the course of multiple people’s lives even in times of deep and ongoing anxiousness. The observer/narrator is winding and given to tangents and, in early moments, might distract a bit too much from the strongly drawn characters. But the story gains energy and sureness as it develops, resulting in moments of insight and connection between its numerous amiable characters.

A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6083-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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