Review: Rock, Paper, Scissors by Naja Marie Aidt,204,203,200_.jpgRock, Paper, Scissors by Naja Marie Aidt, translated by K. E. Semmel (Open Letter, 341 pages)

This is Danish writer Naja Marie Aidt's first novel, and what a novel it is. At turns emotionally exhausting, heart-stopping, humorous, and depressing, Rock, Paper, Scissors confronts us with some uncomfortable questions about family, jealousy, and greed.

While Thomas O'Malley Lindström, part owner of a stationary store, may seem like the book's main character, it is in fact his dead father around whom all of the action and many of the decisions swirl. After Jacques O'Malley dies suddenly in prison for an unspecified crime, his children, Thomas and Jenny, briefly go through his apartment and then arrange for his cremation and burial. Thing is, the apartment was ransacked before Thomas and Jenny arrived, and it's all downhill from there. After all, Jacques was a hardened criminal and his friends aren't exactly sweet guys - so when Thomas discovers a large wad of cash hidden in Jacques's toaster, the last thing he should do is take it.

But of course he takes it. He takes it because his resentment of his father is deep and incredibly painful; because after his mother left, his father barely paid attention to Thomas and his sister and was usually drunk; because Jacques didn't show his son respect. The paranoia and emotional exhaustion that ensues drive Thomas to behave erratically and alienate his girlfriend, sister, and friends. Before long, though, Thomas realizes that his paranoia is partly justified, because once he starts spending the money that he found, someone starts carving symbols on his doors and attacks his girlfriend and ransacks his store. Eventually, Thomas narrows down the suspects, and the ending is downright terrifying.

Aidt tells this story of fear, paranoia, and resentment with such skill that you'll find yourself reading it way faster than your eyes can take in words. We see the world through Thomas's eyes, and his mood-swings and erratic behavior made me feel anxious, as if I were living in Thomas's head and screaming at him to make saner choices. I wanted to slap him across the face at times, and at other times tell him just to open up to those who loved him, and talk through the deep-seated anger and disgust that he felt toward his father. Thomas, though, retreats into himself, leaving his friends and family bewildered and wary.

Rock, Paper, Scissors is the first in a series highlighting Danish women writers that Open Letter Press will be publishing over the next few years. I'm looking forward to reading all of the books in that series, and definitely more Aidt.

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