Can an Estonian write the great American novel?

A REVIEW OF
Things in the Night
by Mati Unt
The Believer


It’s time he finished his novel, a follow-up to a moderate success. It’s about electricity, a topic, he admits, much too general to be worth a damn. It will be written “in dialogue form, where it remains unclear who is who.” Stay with him here, this narrator in the prologue. About the style he has chosen for his novel he says, “it amused me a good deal at first, in an egotistical way, of course—for what else can such amusement be?” The reader finishes the prologue and, forewarned, turns to “The First Chapter of the Novel.” It is what our narrator promised—the first chapter of a novel all in dialogue spoken by characters difficult to pin down. A middle-aged Estonian man gets interrogated (by a reporter? a cop? an old friend?) about his plan to destroy the Liikola Power Station. The man’s hope: the beginning of the end of modernity. A single act of terrorism will start the downward spiral of civilization, the age of electric imperialism. This man is convincing, and some readers will be thinking, “Here it is at last—the apocalyptic, post-Soviet, metaphysical, political thriller I’ve been waiting for.”

But wait, the next chapter is titled “Reality.”

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