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Fluid Friendships: A Literary Ode to the Shifting Nature of Human Bonds

The protagonists of her novel are Camilla, Charles, Alma, Edward, Alwilda and Kristian, a cluster of friends in their 30s and 40s, three men and three women, all well educated and well mannered, and also well-off enough that they can afford to worry about an uncommon moment of melancholy and stillness in a garden rather than the grim business of making rent each month. At the novel’s start, all six are paired up with other members of the group, but as time passes, divorce and illness drive wedges between existing couples and open spaces within which new romantic connections flourish. Camilla, who has nursed Charles through a long convalescence, is uneasily liberated when he severs the ties of their marriage, and copes by buying a discounted thoroughbred horse. Alwilda leaves Edward for a life of greater independence, free of his sensitivity and moping, while Alma leaves Kristian for similar reasons and later finds love with the discarded Edward.

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These ruptures are overt signs of more subtle shifts the characters undergo as they live, love and grow older, but Hesselholdt’s most penetrating insights into the texture of lived experience come in moments of vivid imagery and unexpected humor, which bridge the weight of biography and the lightness of an instant. Baby sharks in a pet-store aquarium “are gray and look like ferocious anchors”; a red leaf is “a slice of autumn.” In a breathtaking and inexplicably memorable scene, Alwilda parts ways with a young American she has met at a bar. Suddenly he reappears with his friends, all of them on bikes. “Without stopping he reached out a long arm and grabbed my head and kissed me, impressively well coordinated,” Alwilda recounts. “He is far too young. I won’t call him.”

Not every reader will find the dense, intricate mundanity of these interlinked monologues easy to appreciate. As in actual life, it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether something crucial is happening, or nothing at all. But those who find connections among these disparate moments will be rewarded with a rare and fragile experience: a rediscovery of the strength of narrative bonds, impossible to dissolve and difficult to forget, a miraculous substance that links the characters to one another and holds them in companionable relation.

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