January 22, 2015

Book Review: Fram by Steve Himmer

Have you ever read a book that you thought you didn't like much at first? But the more you think about it afterwards, the more it's grown on you? That's how Fram was for me. I initially found the surrealism off-putting, but I've found myself thinking about it a lot!

When the book opens, Oscar is a minor government employee.  He works as a prognosticator in the Bureau of Ice Prognostication. Begun during the Cold War, the BIP is tasked with making "discoveries" in the Arctic. By establishing imaginary settlements and "finding" nonexistent deposits of resources, and then creating the bureaucratic paper trail to back up these fictional discoveries, Oscar and his fellow BIP employees are saving the government the time and money that real exploration would cost.

Oscar's predictable life continues for years as he maps out the adventures he'll never take in real life. He's content because he's sort of fulfilling his childhood dream of being an Arctic explorer. Abruptly, however, Oscar is sent to the real Arctic, where he embarks upon a surreal journey that will cause him to question his work as a prognosticator, the strained relationship he has with his wife, Julia, and even the nature of exploration.

Fram is an enigmatic book, in which Oscar (and the reader) are never quite sure what is going on. Much like the original Fram (the ship of 19th-century Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who deliberately froze it into the Arctic ice pack in the hopes that the drifting currents would carry him to the North Pole), Steve Himmer's novel meanders along, taking the reader on an unexpectedly contemplative journey. Those who enjoy surreal fiction, musings on marriage or Arctic history books like Arctic Obsession: The Lure of the Far North, will likely embrace Oscar's exploits.

 Do YOU like surreal fiction?

I originally wrote most of this review for Shelf Awareness. Are you intrigued? Buy Fram
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