Literary reviews & academic assessments
of David Heidenstam's writings.
A range of David Heidenstam’s writings have now appeared in print. Microfictions, in Tales for my dog. A theatre script, in In the beginning… And poetry in the journals Acumen, Agenda, Ambit, en bloc, The Frogmore Papers, The Journal, Orbis, Pennine Platform, and Prole (UK), Two Thirds North (Sweden), and the American Journal of Poetry, Blue Unicorn, and Cold Mountain Review (USA), and in Faber, Carcanet, and other anthologies – and, now, in his collected short poems, Fault Lines. As a result, the first assessments are beginning to appear, either as literary reviews or academic mentions.
Academic mention of Tales for My Dog
Tales for My Dog is one of the most impressive collections of microfictions that I’ve ever read. Its range of genre, subject and feeling is remarkable. Among the many little gems in Heidenstam’s book are pieces that resemble aphorisms, parables and beast fables, as well as miniature second-person narratives. Heidenstam expertly combines the realist, the funny and the absurd in a way that resembles short shorts by some of the greatest practitioners of the genre, such as Robert Coover, Lydia Davis and Dan Rhodes. At times, his writing has a beautiful meditative quality, as when he closes a piece with the words: “There are too many people in this world, and you can’t tell anything about their lives.” For me, the volume provides conclusive evidence that microfiction has a much greater range and affective potential than is commonly believed.
Dr Wojciech Drąg, Assistant Professor, Institute of English Studies, University of Wrocław; co-editor of The Poetics of Fragmentation in Contemporary British and American Fiction (2019) and author of Collage in Twenty-First-Century Literature: Art of Crisis (2020).
Review of In the Beginning…
In the Beginning… reimagines the first chapters of the book of Genesis with wry humor. While our laughter is tinged with bitterness, anger, and above all sadness, in the end, perhaps we see the Fall of Man as a triumph.
The familiar Christian notion is that we fell from a perfect state of grace when we ate the apple. Heidenstam puts that state of grace a bit earlier, before the universe began: God, Satan, and all of creation existed together in perfect harmony. Then, God broke it to pieces, separating Himself from Satan and creating everything. No one in Heidenstam’s Eden feels this loss more than Satan himself; the playwright evokes sympathy for the Devil with a clever combination of naturalistic action, humor, and engaging, thoughtful dialogue.
God and Satan are very human in this play. In the first act, Satan has a sneezing fit; God, the harried creator, gets discombobulated while naming all the marsupials; the pair get drunk over a game of chess; and Satan gets shit on by a bird. But just when we are disarmed and laughing, we begin to understand Satan’s plight: He has been divorced from his brother and forced to play a role he does not want. Satan bemoans, “your world rejects me. Wherever I go I am a stranger.” Satan is without love. He begs God, “Let me be loved. You are loved. Let me be loved.”
Satan has not chosen this; he is as God has created him. Love is out of reach. Eve sees this, and her compassion for Satan turns the moment when she and Adam eat the apple from humanity’s greatest failure to a moment of triumph. In Heidenstam’s telling, Eve is not tricked; rather, she makes a moral choice.
This deceptively simple play is well worth a read. Like the Biblical story it is based on, it confounds in the most pleasurable manner and promises a feast of challenging ideas for those who are willing to taste of it.
Bryon Reiger, Rain Taxi, Volume 25 Number 2 Summer 2020 (#98).
Review of Tales for my Dog
This collection begins with a warning to the reader not to dip in at will, but read the tales consecutively. I did both. It’s true, taking a linear path through the pages does lead you to certain recurring themes; in particular, a sense of alienation and confusion, as attempts are made to navigate the world. In every section, you find characters unsure of their identity, suddenly developing theories of mind in inanimate objects, at the most inconvenient time or location. Heidenstam is keen on giving us stories from differing points of view, his and hers, subject and object, what might have been, what never can be. His tales may be of the commonplace, in which case his treatment of it is bizarre; or completely surreal, and told plainly. (“He was a miser, and so didn’t buy any clothes….most people were very glad they had their clothes, as they felt that with clothes they could deceive people into loving them.”) There’s a touch of Aesop and allegory about many of these microfictions, with the experiences of animals – and in particular, of course, dogs – being plumbed for morals and meaning. I particularly enjoyed the “Four tales for younger dogs” section, which beautifully encapsulates childhood’s terrors – the dawning knowledge of how little you understand, and the desperate anxiety your ignorance provokes. Childlike at times, but never childish, with a sophisticated wit and dry telling observations, often shocking, always entertaining, with never a single wasted word.
Melissa Todd (@MelissaRTodd), in The Journal (UK), #68 (#78), February 2023.
* * *