Laura is expecting a baby. A twenty-four-year-old literature instructor, she lives with her partner Karl Peter in the heart of Bergen, a city in the westernmost part of Norway. She’s suffering from a strange sort of anxiety, which she suspects has something to do with the pregnancy: everything around her seems double, not quite like what it is.
Laura has more common anxieties as well, including a problem with her apartment. The buildings in her part of town are constructed of brick on the outside and wood inside, which makes them so flammable that they’re called “chimney houses.” If their chimney house were to catch on fire, there would be little chance of escape. Then, there are the noisy students living above and below, a drug dealer across the street, hypodermic needles littering the neighborhood. She decides that she and Karl Peter have to move before the baby comes, but this decision, too, seems to bring her nothing but anxiety.
It felt foreordained to open this short story collection by the Norwegian writer Gunnhild Øyehaug and find IKEA on the first page, as in: “…park the car outside IKEA.” IKEA, now based in the Netherlands, originated in Sweden, but to many foreigners, it personifies Scandinavia—pleasant and unthreatening. “Blah, how boring,” was my first thought. Then, trying to stave off disappointment at being welcomed by the all-too-familiar global brand, I told myself, “Well, I guess IKEA did start somewhere nearby. Perhaps, Scandinavians have a particular attachment to clean lines.” (Nervous laughter.) I know that stereotyping is a form of blindness; in practice, my desire for novelty trips me up and leads to overly broad generalizations. Like a tourist, I had to remind myself to check my expectations at the airport.