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Bringing out the horror of teen angst

bookIn recent years, there has been a kind of Swedish literary invasion in America, especially in the horror genre. Perhaps the most notable is John Lindqvist, who wrote the cult classic, Let the Right One In, which became an international bestseller two years ago. The film version that followed was enthusiastically endorsed by Stephen King as a landmark in “intelligent and provocative horror film.” Shortly afterwards, Lindqvist released Handling the Undead and The Harbor, which immediately became bestsellers.

Currently, Lindqvist has an international following, with an eager host of fans impatiently awaiting his next work. Now comes Little Star, which the critics feel is destined to be his “most disturbing novel.”

Little Star is certainly disturbing for a variety of reasons. For example, some of the most disquieting events in Little Star take place in locations that bear an uncomfortable resemblance to popular media events. For example, YouTube becomes a spawning ground for a new cult designed to attract a fanatical following; the Swedish counterpart of “American Idol” becomes a rallying point for a sinister new singer who performs at an outdoor festival that turns into massacre. In essence, Lindqvist has an eerie talent for capturing the world of angry 14- and 15-year-old girls who are plain, nondescript and alienated ... but harbor a rage against the world that ignores them.

Little Star reminds me of one of those 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzles which readily gives you the outer-edges or frame of a complex picture. Perhaps you have isolated images: a snow-capped mountain in one corner, a collection of children in another and a winding road that might tie all of these disparate images together. Lindqvist begins with “Little One,” an abandoned baby that Lennart Cederstrom, a failed musician and a scarred veteran of the hippie movement, finds buried in a remote forest. Captivated by the beauty of the child, Lennart takes her home where he quickly discovers that the baby is “unusual.” She does not cry and seems to be indifferent to Lennart and his wife, Laila, who become devoted to the strange child who amazes them with a singular talent. She can sing. In short, she can mimic any musical sound and “improve it.”

Meanwhile, in another town, a child named Teresa is born. From the beginning, she is sullen and is given to brooding and angry outbursts. As a consequence, she is alienated and reacts to the world around her with resentment. When she acquires a computer, she quickly becomes addicted to teenage websites where hundreds of posters churn out youthful angst about their anxiety, their fears and their loneliness. The overweight and unappealing Teresa has found a haven. She discovers that she has a knack for poetry and soon attracts a following.

And what about Little One? What do these two young girls have in common? Little One is bright, blond and talented. Teresa is dark, suicidal and filled with resentment. Are these two dangerous children moving toward some kind of bizarre symbiosis? Do they “need” each other?

Without giving away too much about this novel’s complex narrative, here are some details about the plot of Little Star. Through a series of tragic events, Little One’s guardians (they are rearing her secretly) are killed (accidentally?), and Little One becomes the responsibility of Lennart and Laila’s son, Jerry. Since Jerry is a talented musician with a career stalled by drugs and depression, he eventually discovers that Little One can sing; he schemes to find a way to “bring her to the world.” He also makes her fearful of the adult world beyond her home and cautions her to avoid any contact with “the big ones,” who will devour her. In order that Little One (now a teenager) may sing for the world, Jerry will act has her intermediary. From this point, it is just a step to YouTube and Sweden’s version of “American Idol.” A single posting of Little Star’s voice on YouTube garners thousands of hits. Now comes the offers for recording contracts, and it appears that, judging by the “feeding frenzy” of agents and sponsors, Jerry’s warnings about the “big ones” was prescient.

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Eventually, it becomes evident that Teresa and Little One are meant to merge in some terrifying union of talents. Teresa would write the songs, angry, triumphant lyrics that speak of revolution and the time to overthrow our oppressors.” Little One’s unearthly voice would carry the message to the thousands of her followers. When she asks them to rise up and smite the enemy, they come, armed with battery-operated Hitachi drills which can penetrate a human skull. They are ready.

And so, the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle merge. The charismatic leader with the hypnotic voice, the angry poet/disciple who helps Little One recruit her vengeful wolves and the thousands of young girls who feel abandoned by their parents, their society and the “adult world.” Incidentally, there is one more section of the book, the final one entitled “The Dead Girls.” The meaning of the title is self-explanatory.

Many of the reviewers of Little Star compare Little One’s extraordinary powers to Stephen King’s Carrie. Certainly both novels revolve around a protagonist who is capable of unleashing a destructive power, but the comparison seems wrong. Carrie contains a terrifying kinetic power that she uses to defend herself. Little Star’s final bloodbath is accomplished by her disciples, who — like cult devotees — are willing to die for/with their leader. In addition, I found Little Star to be a “haunted” tale. Indeed, it resembles some dark allegory of a culture in which technology contains awesome communication capabilities but has created an isolated and lonely society which may self-destruct. Near the conclusion of this dark fable, I kept recalling the summer camp massacre in Sweden in which 69 people died. So, perhaps Little Star is art mimicking reality.

It is fated to make a hell of a movie.

Little Star by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Saint Martin’s Press. 533 pages.

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