In some ways, Fridlund’s debut novel reminded me of Ottessa Moshfegh’s Man Booker 2016 shortlisted Eileen: both have narrators who are angular, often unlikeable, and uncomfortable in their skins. And both create a sense of isolation and impoverishment in their narrators’ lives in order to explain their behaviour. However, Fridland’s protagonist, Linda (or ‘Freak’, or ‘Commie’) is much younger than Moshfegh’s Eileen, and much younger than perhaps she herself is prepared to admit herself. Her vulnerability becomes increasingly obvious as the novel progresses and, as a consequence, I ended the novel liking it a good deal more than I had at the start.
Like Eileen, Linda is drawn to a woman, Patra, who moves with her young child and husband, to a lakefront house near to the teenage Linda and her parents in northern Minnesota. The isolation of this landscape plays its own part in the increasingly claustrophobic novel and through vivid descriptions of the woods, the mosquitoes, the frost, the lakes, Fridlund unfolds a narrative in which Linda tries to make sense of her own feelings and the behaviour of the adults around her.
All the significant characters in this novel are looking for something, or someone, to belong to. This can make for deeply unbalanced or unhealthy relationships, and there is a focus on the idea of responsibility to those who are dependent on you for one reason or another. There is a slow, developing sense of horror at the heart of this story and it is this which provides the strongest passages in the second half of the novel.
Whilst this wasn’t one of my favourite novels on the Man Booker shortlist, it is clear that Fridlund is a significant new voice, one who is capable of unsettling her readers with her writing.
Links to my reviews of the rest of the Man Booker 2017 shortlist: