Love and Obstacles
In “Everything,” one of the stories in Hemon’s new collection, a 16-year-old unnamed narrator travels from Sarajevo to the Slovenian town of Murska Sobota to purchase a freezer for his family. His dad puts him to the task, in hopes the teen will face head-on “the laundry of life”—all the “banal, quotidian operations” that characterize adulthood. Finally away from home, however, our narrator only wants to wander, read Rimbaud and lose his virginity. He preps for the latter mission by carrying a single contraceptive pill in his pocket, ready to offer it to the first willing woman. Alas, he gets an icy reception, and neither poetry nor pills can protect him from the romantic journey going awry.
Love and Obstacles follows the same narrator to various far-flung places (Africa, Sarajevo, Chicago, Canada) and through an assortment of obstacles: dislocation, ennui, establishing identity, longing for connection. As in “Everything,” he comes of age and sorts through life’s laundry—but rarely in sparkling, heroic ways, and never following his premeditated narrative arc. In fact, it’s these clunky confrontations with the world as it really is that lend these stories their momentum. In “Stairway to Heaven,” a hard-drinking, yarn-spinning upstairs neighbor takes the narrator under his wing and ultimately exposes him to a little too much reality. While in “The Bees, Part 1,” the narrator’s father writes an unintentionally heartrending account of the family’s beekeeping heritage.
True to form, Hemon crafts sentences that both sparkle and surprise, particularly in his descriptions of people, nostalgic smells, hotel rooms and impending doom: “We knew—but we didn’t want to know—what was going to happen, the sky descending upon our heads like the shadow of a falling piano in a cartoon.” It’s this hypnotic language—even more than the protagonist’s life, loves and other obstacles—that masterfully links these stories and further establishes Hemon as a writer of extraordinary power.