Everything gets worse over time…
The above sentence pretty much sums up everything you need to know about Thomas O’Mally Lindström – a shopkeeper in an unnamed city. As Naja Marie Aidt’s novel opens, Thomas is cleaning out his abusive dead father’s apartment with his sister Jenny. And if you think that couldn’t get worse, then you are mistaken. This grim task is only the beginning for Thomas. While dealing with his father’s death and an emotionally fragile sister, his relationship with girlfriend Patricia is also deteriorating. Patricia wants a baby. Thomas doesn’t.
But when Jenny asks Thomas to help her fix the toaster she salvaged from their father’s house, his luck suddenly changes. Normally, a toaster wouldn’t do much to improve years of psychological damage and grief, but this is no ordinary toaster. It happens to be completely stuffed with cash. Knowing his father’s criminal past, he believes the money to be stolen, or possibly a product of drug trafficking – but he really doesn’t care. He tells no one about the cash and secretly plans a real estate purchase so that he can expand his shop. But other people do care.
Soon after the money appears, Thomas’s life begins to fall apart at the seams, and slowly unravels to reveal a shocking and violent denouement. The level of tension between the characters’ actions and conversations is reminiscent of Herman Koch’s The Dinner. The pressure builds slowly, and the dysfunction in these people’s lives is maddening, but the larger mystery of who is tormenting Thomas is compelling enough to stomach the unsavory characters.
In the end, I did find a few of the plot elements to be somewhat predictable, but it’s easily overlooked for the sake of Aidt’s mastery of the psychological elements in Rock, Paper, Sicssors. The mind is a flexible thing, and Thomas’s mental state twists and turns throughout the novel until it is nearly unrecognizable. He bears his secret like poison and everyone near him suffers greatly for it. It’s an uncomfortable novel at times, and doesn’t provide the conclusions I’d hoped for, but it’s also a fascinating exploration of if, where, and how violence intersects with grief and trauma.
Rock, Paper, Scissors
By Naja Marie Aidt
Translated from The Danish by K.E. Semmel