Translated by Martin Aitken
A Postcard for Annie
The Danish writer Ida Jessen (A Change of Time) masterfully explores the female voice in her latest short story collection, A Postcard for Annie. There are six stories in total, which are all remarkably real and relatable. At first, these stories may seem even too mundane with everyday chores of cooking and cleaning, fighting with one’s spouse, or listening to a son badmouth his mother. But as you continue to connect with these women, you realize there is so much more to their everyday lives. They are all on the brink of something that is going to change them forever.
Within these short stories, the imagery of nature and all its beauty is as lush as the writing itself. In the story, “An Excursion” we’re in this gorgeous world of a promising spring season—“Among the spruce and pines, wild apple trees were in bud, and the sour cherry trees were already blossoming”—which we can not only visualize but can smell as intently as the protagonist herself.
The weather plays a valuable role in these stories too, often feeling like a character. The forecast helps foreshadow what’s to come, such as in “December is a Cruel Month,” when two girls are startled by the strange winter sights while waiting for their mother to come home:
They didn’t look like the trees they were used to seeing every day behind the churchyard bank, green in summer, blackish brown in winter. These ones bowed their heavy heads so much lower. Every bough and branch, even the thinnest twig was encapsulated in ice. The girls stood listening to the music they made, which was like no music they had ever heard before.
Jessen explores humanity and the relationships we share by uncovering what is hidden within us. With love and desire comes rage and despair. We often keep these so-called ugly truths buried deep within, sometimes not knowing how to release them, but Jessen knows interiority is key here. The internal conflicts these women have are unique and believable. We see women backing down to the male figures in their life: husbands, sons, bosses, and potential romantic partners and giving them a pass for lying or downplaying grief when losing a friend to cancer, then feeling bad about themselves shortly after. In “Mother and Son,” it was hard to stomach Lisbet brushing off her eldest son Malthe’s odd and cruel behavior, lying to her and leaving her stranded at a café, disrespecting his grandparents’ graves by spitting on them. Lisbet continues to take his emotional and, later on, physical abuse. But she is no fool. She is a mother. She shows her strength by willingness to risk it all for unconditional love.
A woman’s desirable worth is often linked to a man’s interest. In “An Excursion,” Tove felt most desirable when Max first came into her life, while in the story, “An Argument” Tine hasn’t felt desirable in years because her husband lost interest:
Oh, for god’s sake, what’s the point, she thinks to herself, standing there all skin and flesh, doomed at fifty to be a fire that can’t be put out.
There are many men in these stories that seem to suddenly lack interest in the women they are supposed to love, downright refusing to go to bed with them. It is hard to like any of the male characters in this collection, which could be the point. They are the deciders (or so they think), the intimidators, the villains, and even at times, the alleged victims. Men disapprove of women’s needs but also of their passions. They have little respect for a woman’s work schedule and very little patience for her friends.
Women can often be portrayed as “crazy” by men in these stories, including in “A Postcard for Annie,” when Mie witnesses an elderly woman at the bus station wearing only her nightgown and slippers, and a man explaining it’s most likely because the woman is mentally unstable. It feels as though the typical stereotypes society has enforced on us are whispering in our ears and Jessen is laughing at it all. The author’s talents shine because she gives us this intoxicating interiority of strong female characters showing us how complex they are, how strong, and how there is much more than what meets the eye.