Title: Welcome to America
Author: Linda Bostrom Knausgard
Genre: Literary Fiction
Number of Pages: 128
Alas, I really had high hopes for this book. I wanted to like it, I tried to look past how aimless and disappointing the whole thing was. Welcome to America is a relentlessly grim and pessimistic novella about a 11-year-old girl who stops talking because she’s tormented by guilt over her father’s death. She admits right off the bat that she sometimes prayed for her dad to die and then he did, so she thinks she must of somehow caused it to happen. The girl’s name is Ellen, and her narration is so developmentally unrealistic that at some point I stopped trying to suspend disbelief.
Seriously, this author didn’t even try making her kid protagonist sound like a kid. She just sounds like an adult trying particularly hard to sound smart and profound. Ellen lives with her mom and her older brother and at the beginning her brother sadistically bullies her whenever mom’s not around. Then all of a sudden the little cretin gets himself a girlfriend and he starts being nice to Ellen and even making an effort to be kind to her when they’re alone together. Why? I have no idea, it’s one of the many things in this story that just doesn’t make sense.
For a while it seems like it’s possibly that Ellen is going to get better, but that would require some kind of actual character development and the author clearly isn’t interested in that. The problem with Welcome to America isn’t that it’s depressing, it’s that it is completely stagnant on both story and character terms. The main character suffers in (literal) silence and the reader begins to understand why she might have fleetingly wished her father dead, her mother and brother are highly dysfunctional but there’s nothing about them that rings true.
As a result, we just get subjected to this miserable child-woman pontificating about how horrible her life is and wanting to remain a withdrawn child forever. As bad as this poor girl’s childhood has been, you would think she’d have some interest in becoming an emancipated adult and being able to make some choices for herself. Still Ellen seems sure that nothing is going to get any better for her and because of her overwhelming (if repetitive) despair, we’re forced to believe her.
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