Language and tongue

Issue 4/2008 | Archives online, Authors

Kristina Carlson on Maritta Lintunen’s short stories

‘What does he think I’ve told him? And how? Shell fragments took my tongue and half my jaw.’ These are the thoughts of a war veteran on hearing his sons speech of exaggerated praise for the heroic deeds of the war.

Maritta Lintunen is a music teacher by education. She has published novels, collections of short stories and poetry. Many of the characters in Lintunen’s short stories are bystanders in their own lives, and the situation in the title story ofthe collection Tapaus Sidoroff (‘The Sidoroff case’, WSOY, 2008) is particularly ironic. Lintunen turns the typical Finnish situation on its head: veterans want to reminisce, but the young cant be bothered to listen. The father sits at the festive hall like a crippled monument to heroism, and wonders why his son didn’t become a hippie like his peers and oppose the Vietnam War. But no: the son becomes an army officer and a public speaker, and the father is made a reluctant human model. The father’s ruminations run parallel with his son’s fiery speech. His war experiences are made into a common heroic interpretation of history – and they are false. But how can a man with half a mouth dispute it?

The characters that inhabit Lintunen’s stories are revealed through strange coincidences. Through these events, they find themselves in a life of dreams, fears, and desires. The same ingredients can be found in Lintunen’s previous story collection Ovisilmä (‘Peephole’, WSOY, 2006). Sometimes, though, her narrative relies too heavily on the power of external plot twists. Lintunen’s rich, dense language is at its best in its laconic, unassuming humour.

In the story ‘Rantavahti’ (‘The lifeguard’), a young man dreaming of heroism muses: ‘All you need is some turning point that reveals the truth. I’ve waited for that moment for ten years, all the time, until school ended.’ This young man who’s been ignored realises his dream of heroism by rescuing a woman from an icy lake, but the action is misunderstood as if a blind person were helped across the street against his will. Still, luckily for the young man, heroism will be replaced by hope.

The story ‘Kanadanhanhi’ (‘The Canada goose’, see page 252) also relies on what is not said. When an old aunt comes to Finland from Canada to visit her old home after half a century, the narrator, her niece, is embittered: the aunt chose to ignore her brother’s funeral a year earlier. Unsolved matters are buried under every­day repartee. It only becomes clear what the aunt is quiet about at the end of the story, and it forces the narrator to re-evaluate her own attitudes; a secret is revealed, but again one dialogue remains unspoken.