How We All Leave in a Row

Short stories

Kuidas me kõik reas niimoodi läheme

How We All Leave in a Row (Short stories, Estonian)
Published by Tuum, 2014, pp. 232

The title of this collection of short stories, How We All Leave in a Row, refers to death and, considering the context of the contents of the book, this is the only way it can be. One of the eight included stories, a piece that follows the deaths of people based on the list of the members of the Estonian Writers’ Union, has lent its title to the book, and no matter which plot line we follow here, the outcome is in one way or another always related to memento mori. The subject of death can be found in an almost paranoid fear of death, in a physical meeting with the Grim Reaper, in a character recognising and admitting to a darker state of mind, or in spiritual suffering from morbid thoughts. Besides the constantly haunting and stalking foreboding of death, some stories focus on the subject of fathers and sons (a father is often a problematic, vague or oppressing factor, or he may be missing altogether). In other cases, stories focus on a person’s creative blazing and angst, which have been brought to a meta level in the form of the author’s comments on his own work and his point of view inserted into the text, which critically evaluates the text unrolling in front of the reader.

This is the third collection of short stories written by the author and radio journalist Urmas Vadi (b. 1977). As an author of prose, Vadi sometimes boldly overturns the screw in his writing. He feels much more at home in the theatre, both as a playwright and a director. His achievements in different fields and genres all bear a connecting unique signature: his enjoyment of playing across genre boundaries, his feeling of the absurd, which cleverly mixes in some realism, the way he adds nuances of light humour to more serious aesthetics, the way he purposefully undermines the credibility of the world of texts, etc. In both his theatre and fiction texts, Vadi plays with some deeply local specifics, either by messing with the proper names and identities of local cultural figures or by turning national myths into absurdities (the latter was clearly seen in his previous book, the novel Back to Estonia!, (2012)). Contextuality is such an important and strong cornerstone of Vadi’s work that, in one of his stories, with foresight he talks about the possible difficulties and losses that might happen if his books were translated.

Vadi himself is the protagonist of his short stories, giving them a realistic foundation (the specificity of Vadi’s prototypes and locations has been called hyperrealism). He unleashes a dizzying “game within a game” about his own name, where the figure of the author is undermined, on the one hand, by the protagonist and, on the other hand, by the supporting characters, who analyse the one-man-author-and-protagonist Urmas Vadi from the bystander’s viewpoint. By using different points of view, in one story the author comments on, explains and criticises his own work and in the same story suggests ways of improving it, which seems to occur when the relations between different stories are examined from different angles.

The author lets the supporting characters express this: “I think that Urmas is in a crisis, he repeats himself, he has squeezed himself dry. But the most annoying thing is that his treatment of people is as thin and transparent as a windowpane. He is no longer a youngster; he should rise above the grotesque and look at what Dostoevsky does.” With such methods, Vadi avoids the possibility of making the morbid undercurrent of his collection of short stories, full of the subject of death, too oppressive. The lifelike angst and the horrors of the afterlife are neutralised by his way of narrating, which first develops the uneasiness, but later slaps on an irrational or grotesque angle, which can, in its strangeness, even have a humorous effect. But even when circling around different hazy situations, he is able to put something into words for the reader to believe in: “I wanted to say in my story that we shouldn’t live and die alone in the dark.”

Text by Brita Melts

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