Sep 30 2013 2:00pm

Fresh Meat: Let the Old Dreams Die by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Let the Old Dreams Die by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Let the Old Dreams Die by John Ajvide Lindqvist is a horrifying and chilling short fiction anthology, translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg (available October 1, 2013).

Before I started this collection, John Ajvide Lindqvist was a writer I knew only through acquaintance with the 2008 vampire film Let the Right One In.  The movie, adapted from his novel of the same name, impressed me a lot. It has a gritty, realistic feel, despite its supernatural elements, and it uses the horror genre both to deliver gory shocks and to develop sympathetic characters. If the book is anything like the movie, I thought when I saw it, this writer is damn good.

Suspicion confirmed. Let the Old Dreams Die is a collection of twelve stories by Lindqvist, and all the strengths that were apparent in his vampire story are on hand here.

Everything for him begins with intriguing characters. In the first tale, “The Border,” a female customs officer named Tina has a sixth sense that makes her great at her job. She can feel it in her bones when people are hiding things.  Despite her professional renown, she's a lonely person in a drab relationship— that is, until she meets a man passing through customs who upends her entire existence. This is a story that goes in a direction I didn't anticipate at all, and as it unfolds, connecting Tina's abilities to Nature, I was reminded of the classic British horror writer Arthur Machen (best known for his novella The Great God Pan). There is also a sexual component to the story that would make Clive Barker proud. It's not that the sex is especially graphic, but it is about how the needs of the body lead to unexpected transformation. “The Border” has a premise poised on the cusp of absurdity, but the richness of Tina as a person, the way you root for her as she struggles, make this story engrossing.

“A Village in the Sky” highlights another strong aspect of Lindqvist's writing— dark humor.  A man living in a high-rise in a Swedish city starts to suspect something is off about the building's geometry. As if that's not creepy enough, the building's configuration seems to keep changing. This idea of non-Euclidean, or monstrous, geometry evokes the work of H.P. Lovecraft, as does the man's fear of rats living in the spaces between the building's walls.  But that's where the story's humor comes in; even as the man obsesses over what might be wrong with his living area, he imagines this:

... an army of rats chewing their way through the concrete, perforating the building like a roll of toilet paper and causing it to give way, to lean.  Al-Qaeda rats that worked with a long-term goal. He snorted when he visualized rats in turbans and beards infiltrating the shadowy buildings of the west.      

A truly Lovecraftian creature finds this man at the story's end, but the final point about the anonymity of life in a modern, apartment complex is the larger horror. 

Angles and curves, distorted space, also figure in “Tindalos,” a novella-length tale about a mother and wife fighting to keep a lifelong fear at bay. The title comes from “The Hounds of Tindalos,” a story by Frank Belknap Long, a Lovecraft friend and disciple. Vera, the main character, actually reads the Long story as she tries to comprehend the secret behind the chewing noise that has followed her for years, but here again, what makes the story click is the naturalistic grounding under the horror. Vera has an unfaithful husband, two headstrong daughters, and memories that haunt her. The terrors she must confront seem like emanations of life itself.  As with Tina in “The Border,” you read fully engaged with the character, hoping she can find at least a modicum of peace and safety in her life.

An aspect of these stories that I loved is how they exhibit sympathy for outsiders. Misfits are Lindqvist's people. Let the Right One In used a vampire tale to explore a relationship between a bullied twelve year-old boy and a vampire girl who comes to protect him. We are completely on their sides when they wreak havoc on the boy's enemies. These stories do something similar. In every one, Lindqvist makes us care about people at odds with the mainstream world. As his narrator in “Equinox” says of her husband:

I liked him because he was simple and imperfect, damaged like me. Another human being.

She's being honest about herself, that's for sure. “Equinox” is the collection's most chilling story, a look at a woman who becomes enamored of a dead male body in a neighboring house. What's remarkable is that her feelings are believable, even though she has a solid marriage and devotes herself to her kids. The ordinary just isn't enough. Indeed, many of the characters in this book strive for something beyond the everyday, and Lindqvist fearlessly follows them there, consequences be damned. A refusal to abide society's rules certainly animates the women in “Majken,” who take their credo from The Smiths's song “Shoplifters of the World, Unite.”  This is one of my favorite stories in the collection, more a weird crime tale than a horror tale per se, its power is fueled by a spirit of revenge against economic imbalance:

Majken drew a breath and asked, “Dolly. Do you think that life has been fair to you?”

“That depends on what you mean by fair.”

“No splitting hairs now. Life, society, people, whatever you want to call it.  Has it or they given you what you deserve? Have you been able to shape your life the way you wanted to, or have you always lived under the kind of pressure that stems from the necessity of making money for others?        

Weird fiction with a political slant? Well, sort of. And the same applies to the zombie epic, “Final Processing,” in which a young man besotted by a rebellious woman helps the woman in her quest to aid victimized zombie hordes confined by shadowy corporate forces. This is the bloodiest story of the bunch, as well as a sequel to Lindqvist's novel Handling the Undead, and it serves to highlight Lindqvist's weaknesses as well as his strengths. When Lindqvist delves deep into character and lets his stories evolve from a person's anguish and obsessions, he is at his best. In overall plotting, and in some cases endings, he can be less compelling. But it's obvious that he has a lively imagination, and what I found most refreshing about these tales is that I couldn't predict in a single one where the narrative thread would end. The stories take odd detours and turns and keep you off balance. In a genre overstuffed with predictable tropes and cliched patterns, he calls upon horror's traditions to convey a confidently personal vision.

It's a wet vision, by the way, and I mean that literally. Water figures prominently in a number of these stories, and it's not exactly water as the bringer of life.  In “Eternal Love,” for example, the sea takes on a malevolent force that dictates the choices of the two main characters, and I was somehow not surprised to learn, on reading up about Lindqvist, that his own father drowned several years ago. 

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the collection's title story, a follow-up to Let the Right One In. Horror in this tale is only alluded to; the story focuses on a subway ticket seller from Blackeberg (the town where the vampire novel took place), a police detective who investigated the vampire attacks, and a train ticket collector who lived through the events. I found this story to be a poignant meditation on love, aging, and friendship, and it concludes in a way that is both beautiful and chilling.  It also brings closure to certain points that the novel left open.

I read part of this book at night while camping out on Cape Cod.  I'm sure that added to my tension as I read, but mostly the scares and disorientation resulted from Lindqvist's skill alone. He's a topnotch practitioner of the weird/horror tale, his hits in this book far outnumbering the misses. It had been a while since I read any horror (a genre I've loved since childhood), and I was glad to reconnect with the monsters and frights through a writer at home in the realm of fear.

This Sweepstakes has ended.

To enter for a chance to win an advanced reader copy of  Let the Old Dreams Die by John Ajvide Lindqvist, make sure you're a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!

Let the Old Dreams Die Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry  at beginning at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) September 30, 2013. Sweepstakes ends at 1:59 p.m. ET October 7, 2013. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law.  Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

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Scott Adlerberg lives in New York City. A film nut as well as a writer, he co-hosts the Word for Word Reel Talks film commentary series each summer at the HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival in Manhattan. He blogs about books, movies, and writing at Scott Adlerberg’s Mysterious Island. His Martinique-set crime novel, Spiders and Flies, is available now from Harvard Square editions at Amazon, B&N, and wherever books are sold.

Read all posts by Scott Adlerberg for Criminal Element.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Jody Darden
2. jldarden
I have been on a short story jag recently and this collection sounds great.
Linda Deming
4. lindem
I really need an interesting short story book to carry with me for the times
when I have to Wait on Dr. Aoppointments, car oil changes, ect.
Chris Noe
6. ezmerelda
Sounds like a good read and I would love to win it.
7. Shannon Baas
Looks like a good book.
8. tony parsons
luv 2 read this book
Margot Core
9. AnnaZed
I loved 'Let the Right One In' (the original Swedish version!)
10. TopDragon
I'm always on the look-out for non-US works, especially short story anthologies. This looks perfect.
Kay Gornick
I've been reading a lot of translations lately, but mostly detective/crime. Let's try something new.
14. maryrobinson
Sounds like a wonderful read!
Mike zinn
15. Zinn
Sounds like a great collection. Can't wait to read it.
Joshua Atkins
16. atkinsj
Loved Let the Right One In, can't wait to give this a read.
Charles Fraker
17. CharlieF
I really liked Let The Right One In and Handling The Undead so I'm looking forward to this short story collection. Thanks for the contest.
Laurence Coven
18. Holmes
This looks like it could be a really fantastic new book
Barbara Lima
21. barblima
Oh, I want to read about a world and people that are little not as it seems.
Deborah Dumm
25. deb730
Sounds like a great book. My library will have to get this book for me to read.
Michele Amos
26. amos122902
Sounds great! Look forward to reading it.
Karen Terry
27. bblol65
It isn't often I read short stories, but this sounds really good.
32. sweetjudyblue
Would love to read this!
Jennifer Higgins
34. knittingmomof3
Let the Old Dreams Die appears to be a must read. Thank you for the chance.
35. Susan Newman
I love horrow and thriller books! Can't wait to read this!
Jeffrey Tretin
36. jtretin
Thanks for the giveaway. Can't wait to read it.
Donna Bruno
37. dlbawiles
Looks like a great anthology- I'd love to win it!
Dorothy Newmark
38. bookgirl1
This is a fantastic giveaway for Halloween!!
Pam Howell
40. phowell13
I loved Let hte Right One In. I didn't know it was based on a book. Now I have to go find that one and then read this one too. Fabulous.
42. Allan Culmer
I love anthologies, would fit nicely in my book shelf after I read it.
Rosemary Krejsa
46. grandpa5
This books sounds very interesting. I would love to read it.
alicia marie
47. bamayankee
Definitely going to be reading this book : )
Joyce Mitchell
48. JoyceLm
I enjoy short stories - thanks for the chance to win.
Carl Ginger
49. cgin56
This looks like a great collection, would love to read it!
susan beamon
50. susanbeamon
I have enjoyed Lovecraft's writing. It would be interesting to see what another writer does with the style.
Marisa Young
57. Risa
Great book to read the month of Halloween
59. Darlene Hampton
love a good mystery..
Joanne Mielczarski
60. jtmswim
I do want to read this book - thank you for the opportunity.
Marie-Louise Molloy
63. Wezzie
Time to win, would like to finish the book~LOL!!
Bruce Hamilton
64. deerwalker
I don't read many short stories but all of these look interesting.
Megan Mariner
67. luckeeblackcat
I loved "Let the Right One In" and "Handling the Undead"! I eeked out loud when I saw this article about another release from him!
Dana Mollica
71. PencilStubs
I didn't know "Let the Right One In" was orginally a book! I'll have to check out the book and Mr. Lindqvist's other works.

This story collection sounds great too. :D
Jo Mansfield
73. purplehummer200
Cindi Hoppes
75. CindiHoppes
The cover of this book certainly grabs my attention...
Also, the story line is very enticing!
Many thanks, Cindi
John Clark
76. sennebec
This author's other books have been quite popular at the library I manage, winning a copy would make lots of folks happy.
Reginald Sandifer
80. reg369
I love anthologies and collections. So much good stuf to choose from.
81. ronframpton
looks interesting
83. Peterson
I am looking for new short stories. This one looks good.
elizabeth findlay
86. eafindlay
This book will keep me up at night for sure.
Johanna Bouchard
91. JMB89
would love to win! sounds like an awesome read!!
Elizabeth Bevins
93. @BevinsElizabeth
Thanks for the chance to win this book. Sounds compelling!
Janet Martin
94. janmaus
Look forward to this--loved Let the Right One In!
98. The Green Yak
Perfect for October, it looks like!
vicki wurgler
99. bison61
horrifying and chilling-that does sound good
Donna Leggate
100. lovetoread
I'm looking for a good book to settle down with and this would be perfect for this time of year. Thank you. :o)
Melissa Firpo
102. missy18214
I would love to add this book to my collection and read/review it! Right my alley.
Michelle Fidler
103. Micky
Sounds interesting and it would be somthing different for me.
Karen Hester
105. rosalba
a new Swedish author for me - I enjoy reading his book
Joan Woods
106. buckeye14
A new book and new author for me. Would love to win the book.
Deb Mosora
107. debmsra
Sounds like something I would like to read!
Tawney Mazek
108. tmaze
This sounds certainly sounds as if it is horror done right. (Have yet to see Let the Right One In - maybe I should read it.)
Christine LaRue
110. LadyAnubis
I enjoyed "Let The Right One In" immensely and would love to check out more of Lindqvist's oeuvre. (My late Swedish godmother's name was Ebba.)
Florry M. D.
111. florryalyna
Let the Old Dreams Die by John Ajvide Lindqvist sounds so intriguing. Would like to win & read it.
Heather Martin
112. CrystalMirror
Short stories are fun way to judge a writer's skill, and whether you will enjoy their long form.
Elizabeth Swanson
113. happyhedgehog
Ooh ooh... love short stories and love this genre!
115. maryc
Sounds like an interesting collection of short stories.
Merikay Noah
117. PopcornReads
His books always give me such a serious case of the creeps - I can hardly wait to read this one!
john frost
118. jackfro
Loved Let the Right One In. Would love to read these.
122. tony parsons
just in X for Halloween
teresa sopher
123. tas58
I find myself more and more attracted to short stories and novellas.
Charles Volstad
125. ChuckCE
I like that it was translated from Swedish
Melissa Keith
128. melly801
THIS BOOK SOUNDS AWESOME! Every year around Halloween I try to win a scary book. Sometimes yes...sometimes no. It's the people who say 'no' that I want to bite. ;-) Please send me 'thrilling and chilling'!! Btw, I've seen LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. Loved it.
Heather Deluna
130. melikegarfield
Sounds like the perfect item to give myself a bit of a scare!
Linda Lockhart
131. mssoutherncharm
I really like this author. I thought Let The Right One In was exceptional. I'm looking forward to reading more of his work.
kathy pease
132. klp1965
Thank you for the great giveaway please count me in :)
Bob Keck
134. ky2here
I didn't know this was the same author as 'let me in'. I'm in! thanks for sponsoring this.
Leisa Wooten
135. leisa12
I would love to have this book!! Sounds like my kinda reading!
Brenda Elsner
136. brat52101
This sounds like a very interesting book!!
Lisa Ahlstedt
141. Lisanne624
I love Swedish mysteries, so I'm eager to read some horror "pa svenska" (or in English, since it's translated!).
Wayne Lecoy
144. hotrodguy
I am entering your giveaway.
It would be great to win an advanced reader copy of
Let the Old Dreams Die by John Ajvide Lindqvist.
This looks like an interesting book.
Thank you for having this giveaway!!!!!!!!!
Karen Koziczkowski
145. zoom38
Sounds like a real page turner, can't put it down book. Snow will be falling soon, will need something like this for the days of reading under a warm blanket on the couch.
Regina Marlborough
146. marjeannie
sounds great. limited run anthology series?
shawn manning
147. shawnmanning
Have been meaning to get around to reading some of his stuff.
Ed Nemmers
148. saturdaynightfever
I would like to read the work of John Ajvide Lindqvist!
LeAnn Knott
154. knottlady
It looks like a read for a night when i am not home alone! Thanks for the chance to read!!
Reginald Sandifer
156. reg369
Looks to be a good colection of spooky!
159. SherryKaraoke
I loved Let the Right One In when I read it. I look forward to this collection.
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