Lichtman on Wedding Worries

Johannes Lichtman

Johannes Lichtman

Johannes Lichtman (Such Good Work, Simon & Schuster) reviews Wedding Worries. Excerpts from Tin House Winter Reading 2018 Issue 78. Read full review here

 […] Wedding Worries is a polyphonic novel that takes place over twenty-four hours surrounding a country wedding. At the time I first read it, Wedding Worries had yet to be translated into English (though revered in Sweden and hailed in France as the “Nordic Rimbaud” and in Italy as the “Swedish Camus,” Dagerman has yet to break through in America), but the novel was recently released in a highly readable English translation by Paul Norlén with Lo Dagerman. The story centers on Hildur, who is in love and secretly pregnant, but whose beloved has asked her to wait a few years for him to make some money. Instead, she has agreed to marry the wealthy and vulgar butcher from town to avoid the fate of her sister, who had a child out of wedlock and is now stuck on her parents’ farm with her son, bitter and ostracized. Like most of Dagerman’s books, the novel is marked by brutality, but amidst the violence and toil, it’s also a very funny book, populated by a large cast of characters firing one-liners and callbacks.

imgres-5As the story begins, we see a host of people who are stuck: Hildur’s father is stuck in the attic, a recluse scared of the world. “Slow and steady—that’s how God made snails, or whoever it was who made them,” he muses from the room he never leaves. “But whoever made them, he did it well. For what does a snail need speed for? Whatever he treads on is his. Wherever he turns in this world his building rests on its own ground.” Hildur’s mother is stuck watching her favorite daughter leave home for an unworthy husband. And Hildur is stuck in the pregnancy that’s necessitating her marriage.

My own stuckness was less severe than that of any of the characters (while also more severe, since I was a real person). But the thing that separates Wedding Worries from the darkness of Dagerman’s early books (“early” meaning the ones written three or four years prior), and the thing that made it so important for me at the time, is that the characters find ways to get unstuck. […]

A central theme in Dagerman is the importance of free will, even if the action the individual chooses is only symbolic. As he slid deeper into writer’s block, Dagerman tried to convince himself that writing didn’t matter as long as he still had his freedom: “My possibilities are limited only if I try to quantify them according to the number of words or books that I turn out before I die. But who demands an accounting of this sort?” The world, of course, demands an accounting. At the time I picked up Wedding Worries, I wasn’t just waiting to hear if someone would pay me for my words; I was waiting for validation from the world. But as Dagerman argued, as much to himself as anyone else, the individual is the sum of her choices, not her achievements. Even if no one publishes your book, I thought while reading Dagerman, you still chose to write it. […]

 

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