A review of

Things in the Night

by Mati Unt

Central question: Can an Estonian write the great American novel?
Format: 316 pp., paperback; Size: 5.6" x 8.1"; Price: $13.95; Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press; Editor: John O’Brien; Translation and afterword: Eric Dickens; Cover and interior designer: N. J. Furl; Representative sentence: “When a cock crows, you’re taken back to the movies of the fifties, and a village dance is going to follow, you’re coming through the dewy grass and you hear the cock crow and you can imagine that some tyrant, war criminal or simply some philosopher astray in this world has met his end, thus offering the road open to progress or at least to the temporary improvement of things.”

It’s time he finished his novel, a follow-up to a moderate success. It’s about electricity, a topic, he admits, much too general to be worth a damn. It will be written “in dialogue form, where it remains unclear who is who.” Stay with him here, this narrator in the prologue. About the style he has chosen for his novel he says, “it amused me a good deal at first, in an egotistical way, of course—for what else can such amusement be?” The reader finishes the prologue and, forewarned, turns to “The First Chapter of the Novel.” It is what our narrator promised—the first chapter of a novel all in dialogue spoken by characters difficult to pin down. A middle-aged Estonian man gets interrogated (by a reporter? a cop? an old friend?) about his plan to destroy the Liikola Power Station. The man’s hope: the beginning of the end of modernity. A single act of terrorism will start the downward spiral of civilization, the age of electric imperialism. This man is convincing, and some readers will be thinking, “Here it is at last—the apocalyptic, post-Soviet, metaphysical, political thriller I’ve been waiting for.”

But wait, the next chapter is titled “Reality.”

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Thom Blaylock

Thom Blaylock is the editor of Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, and cocreator of Project Flamingo. He lives in New York City.

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