John Ajvide Lindqvist is a kinky romantic. The author of Let the Right One In grooves on romance that is steeped in bizarre circumstance and odd couplings. With his short story collection, Let the Old Dreams Die, now out from Quercus Export Editions, he reinforces his unusual take on permutated love. This isn’t “Lovers and Other Strangers,” but rather “Lovers Are Other Strangers.” And it gets even stranger.
Consider the first tale in the book, “The Border.” A border control official has a knack for ferreting out travelers with something to hide. Usually, they are smuggling in liquor beyond the allowance, or another mundane infraction of the rules. When the astute employee’s suspicion is triggered by a hirsute commuter, a destined dynamic occurs. After interrogation and a body search, a kindred bond is formed. To divulge much more of the plot would lead to spoilers. And that would be a travesty, since the plot hinges on surprise elements. Suffice to say, “The Border” draws heavily from Scandinavian folklore.
More influenced by horror literature is “Equinox,” which displays knowledge of the works of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, plus a dash of a Stephen King novel. The narrative reads like a mash-up of Poe’s “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” and Lovecraft’s “Cool Air,” with a tip of the hat to the captive-captor interplay of King’s Misery. A trespasser enters a vacated home and finds a perfectly preserved (courtesy of the freezing temperature in the unheated house) male corpse, with a dagger protruding from its chest. The intruder commences a cruel interaction with the attractive buff body. The deceased registers some reactive emotion and can verbalize a bit. He also appears to be mobile…when left alone. The interloper talks to the cadaver. She taunts and debases it. Morbid mortification leads to disgusting physical defiling. It all culminates in a ghastly crescendo. This is Lindqvist at his least romantic: The woman gussies herself up during one of her visits, only to be ridiculed by the dead man. Her reaction is childish and churlish. It’s a courtship made in hell, a dance of death in which it’s unclear who is leading and who is following.
Picking favorites among the twelve tales in this compilation is a subjective matter. Readers may well prefer stories not covered in this review. Two that must be discussed, however, are sequels to novels written by Lindqvist. “Final Processing” is the follow-up to his zombie themed Handling the Undead. The 84-page narrative ultimately turns spiritual and sentimental, although there are passages that are extremely disturbing. Here is one: “There were no bodies in the box. There were body parts. On the very top was a white sponge that Kalle did not immediately recognize as a hand, since the fingers had been severed. It lay in a clump of something that was probably intestines. Along the edges were severed feet, a forearm, and more hands, the occasional finger with nails faintly reflecting the light from the ceiling.” Despite such powerful imagery, the aforementioned metaphysical aspects of the yarn render it mawkish.
In contrast, “Let the Old Dreams Die,” the sequel to Lindqvist’s magnum opus Let the Right One In, succeeds on all levels. It is the closing tale in the book, and Lindqvist saves the best for last. Employing a couple of peripheral characters from Let the Right One In as the focus of the narrative, the author concocts a romance that warms the heart and chills the blood. While investigating a series of murders and the disappearance of a local lad, a policewoman met her soulmate. The twosome remains demonstrative and committed over the years, reflecting periodically on the odd circumstances of their meeting and the unfinished business surrounding the case. Their devotion to one another is viewed with awe and envy by the first person narrator, a bachelor. He chronicles his relationship with the duo over the years, and notes how the woman still scours the media for information regarding the missing youth–and the mysterious companion who has sometimes been seen in his company. The ongoing interest in the on-the-lam duo is heightened considerably when a health crisis shakes up the woman’s world. The answers she seeks now have little to do with her life as a law enforcement officer. The fascination is no longer on a professional level.
In the story “Let the Old Dreams Die,” John Ajvide Lindqvist reminds the reader that “Love is love. In the dramatic stories, the people involved are physically willing to give up their lives for each other, but that is exactly what happens in the great but everyday love also. You give your lives to each other the whole way and every day, until death.” Lindqvist’s collection bearing the same title as this tale is a confirmation that peculiar symbiotic relationships fascinate the writer. He sees the intrinsic perils of intimacy, and avidly embraces the inherent fear and possible horrors.