The Survivors by Alex Schulman
Published by Doubleday Books
Publication date: October 5, 2021
Genres: Book Clubs, Debut, Fiction, Childhood, Literary
Alex Schulman is a well-known Swedish author with The Survivors being his first book to be translated into English. The novel begins with a policeman arriving at a lakeside cottage where three men wait, bloody and exhausted. Nils, Benjamin, and Pierre are brothers who came to the house to dispose of their mother’s ashes, a plan that fell apart as they began revisiting the past.
Schulman writes The Survivors in an observational tone. It’s clear the brothers are estranged after a childhood spent with a father big on adventure but not on stability and a mother who loved her dog more than her three sons. The story moves backwards in two-hour increments from midnight when the police arrive through the day before. Chapters alternate between this timeline and the memories of Ben, the sensitive middle child who seems most affected by whatever occurred one summer when they were young.
An air of detachment perfectly employed by Schulman, permeates The Survivors. I spent 3/4 of the novel feeling I was merely experiencing a Scandinavian perspective—a quieter, contemplative review of a tumultuous, difficult time. Only then does the truth reveal itself and it’s a swift blow to the solar plexus. Written with simplicity, one single sentence throws Ben’s memories into disarray and forces the reader to reassess everything they’ve read. This seismic upheaval tears apart the surface façade of life in a way that goes beyond The Survivors, provoking thoughts of the truths we face and those we hide. More importantly, which do more damage?
For additional literary fiction that probes the space between memory and reality I’d highly recommend The Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene.
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