Bookshots: 'Let the Old Dreams Die' by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
Let the Old Dreams Die
Who wrote it?
The guy who I'm sure is equally thankful for/sick of being referred to as the Swedish Stephen King, Let the Right One In author John Ajvide Lindqvist.
Plot in a box:
A collection of horror shorts, including sequel stories to both Let the Right One In and Handling the Undead.
Invent a new title for this book:
Paper Walls +1
Read this if you like:
Stephen King; believable, character driven horror; and Let the Right One In and Handling the Undead, obviously.
Meet the book's leads:
A plethora of Scandinavian every(wo)men, including a couple of familiar faces.
Said leads would be portrayed in a movie by:
I don't know. The Swedish national curling team? The staff of your local Ikea?
Setting: Would you want to live here?
Despite being cold and full of creepy goings-on, Sweden sounds lovely this time of year.
What was your favorite sentence?
There was something vaguely threatening about the two children moving behind the smiling, unsuspecting family. Like predators.
Bottom line: if you like what Lindqvist does you'll like this collection. For me, personally, it highlights his strengths as a storyteller, and to a lesser degree, his weaknesses. And what I consider weaknesses might just come down to personal preference.
Lindqvist grounds his horror in realism, whether he is writing about vampires or zombies or inter-dimensional intestines that want to devour human souls. He is extremely adept at crafting relatable characters and situations that make you forget you are slumming it in genre. For example, Let the Right One In is essentially a coming of age novel. It just happens to feature a character who is a vampire. I would argue that its sequel story, "Let the Old Dreams Die," isn't horror at all. It's a love story, and could be the strongest piece in this collection. Other standouts include "Equinox," about a woman's relationship with a dead man; "The Substitute," which combines the idea of body snatchers with Pink Floyd; and "Tindalos," which incorporates elements of Lovecraftian mythos.
For me, ambiguity is what makes horror scary. Fear of the unknown is the greatest fear of all. Even if there is a specific threat, if you don't know the "why?" of a situation you can't make sense of it, and that's terrifying. That being said, too much or too little "why?" can ruin a story. I can suspend my disbelief for the "what," but the "why?" really has to work. It is Lindqvist's "why?"s that don't always do it for me. His novel, Handling the Undead, is a great take on the zombie genre that treats the "reliving" as a real world problem. Not a threat, but an obligation. A chore. But when we finally get a reason for why the dead are coming back to life, the story loses its tether to the real world. It ends on an unsatisfying note of hokey spiritualism. (Conversely, I found the opposite to be true of "Final Processing," the Handling the Undead sequel contained in this collection. I liked the resolution much better than the build-up.)
Thankfully, most of the stories in Let the Old Dreams Die fall into the "why?" sweetspot. Just the right mix of ambiguity and resolution. You believe most of these events could happen, even if there is no way they could possibly happen. That's a tough thing to pull off. And even though Lindqvist isn't successful 100% of the time, when he does get it right, he gets it right. And that puts him way ahead of the game in my book.
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