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Held up in the bog of Books-I-Have-Not-Finished, I decided to recharge with, naturally, another book. Benny Andersens amalgamated collection of short stories from other previous books and a chapter from his first novel, provide what I hope is an illustrative introduction to his work. From what Ive read, Andersen is a prominent lyricist and poet in Denmark, but per usual, there isnt a whole lot available in English. [If you’re interested—which, clearly, you are—his bio on danishliterature.info fairly glows: If it is true that humour derives from the recognition of our own limitations, then it is one of the saving graces of the Danes that we have made Benny Andersen into our national bard. He is the most widely read, most often sung and best loved of modern Danish lyricists…and more particularly, the fond and ironic portraitist who, with his wry way of looking at things and his convoluted wordplay, shows us ourselves for what we are, pinpoints our limitations and our self-delusion and helps us to discover the inherent potential of language and of life.] But now, to the stories:If I haven’t made it entirely clear by now, I love elliptical narration that drags you back and forth through tangents and digressions and partial memories and colloquial asides all in one breath when suddenly—surprise!—you’re at the end of the story and you’re not even sure how you got there. More concisely, I tend to really love storytelling that is about the process of narration, rather than what “happens,” per se. Andersen seems to be a pro at these peripheral stylings—the majority of the quirky, first person narrators in this collection appear to be incoherently rambling until you get to the end of their very odd tales and figure out who is being addressed, or why some random detail at the beginning of the story really mattered. In “Pants,” the narrator begins by explaining a reclaimed preference for margarine over butter, which in turn, explains why he loves to wear secondhand clothes. We then find out that after putting on a pair of second-hand pants, he was compelled to go to a section of town he never goes to, talk to a big man’s girlfriend in a bar, and then leave and walk to the end of a pier in order to dispose of most of his clothing. Which is why, officer, he was running half-naked through town.Hiccups introduces a fellow who goes to party so that he can indulge in his much-loved pastime of, you guessed it, hiccuping. In Layer Cake, a wife becomes convinced that her husband is having an affair with the bakers wife because he claims to not want to eat any of the cake shes brought home. “Fats Olsen” diverges from the imaginative, absurdist premises, in favor of slightly more grounded commentary. The creepy, maybe-not-so-reliable storekeep Fats Olsen starts by telling us that he’ll “probably have to cut down that apple tree,” because, he eventually explains, his neighbors suspect him of being a child molester because he lives alone and is nice to the kids who steal his apples. Through the course of this particular tale, the reader’s sympathies are jockeyed back and forth so many times that it almost doesn’t bear trying to make a real judgment about old Fats—his paranoid attempts to keep his neighbors thinking that he really doesn’t like kids (so they won’t suspect him of trying to lure the kiddies into the storeroom), makes you initially think that something about the man ‘protests too much.’ But then, after Fats helps a lost little girl find her way out of a forest only to be falsely accused by her father and the townsmen of doing her harm, you can’t be so sure. And yet, Andersen still manages to keep the whole situation darkly humorous: “They nearly stretch their necks out of joint to get a sidelong glance into my back room—shouldn’t there maybe be a rack or gallows in there, a single child’s corpse or just a sawed off leg?”These are dense stories about odd people doing odd things with a ample peppering of existentialist humor. Highly recommended if you ever run across it.

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