“As the others made small talk, I glanced out the window and wondered how I’d explain things to everyone: ‘Why am I back? […] Let’s just say it all started long ago with a quarrel between a man and his bitch…'” So begins EE Ryan’s first novella ‘The Odd Saga Of The American And A Curious Icelandic Flock,’ which follows Alex Welch, just another American drifter in Iceland.
An alluring tongue-in-cheek story based loosely on the author’s own time studying abroad in Iceland, the novella takes the reader on a fast and loose ride through Iceland, perhaps too fast for some Icelanders. “It was never meant to be an exhaustive account,” EE says. “In fact, my main goal was to offer a concise perspective of Icelandic culture from an outsider who happened to get a closer look.”
Alex comes to Iceland to study biology, and acts as a foil character to a peculiar native cast, specifically to an elderly veterinarian, Snorri. The latter is described as a “purveyor of fine humour”—though perhaps Alex’s dull American sensibilities make it hard for him to indulge a man who on occasion drives while sleeping or drinking.
Snorri and Alex go to various sheep farms to collect blood samples, giving the American a small taste of pastoral Icelandic hospitality along the way. But Alex doesn’t meet the humble farmers before Snorri takes him to visit a slaughterhouse where the old veterinarian has some ostensibly less-than-ethical dealings.
EE’s vivid prose intensifies most of the novella’s action, but in the brief description of Alex’s experience in the slaughterhouse, its capacity is fully realised; readers with weaker constitutions should take heed for a page or two. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 occur in the midst of Alex’s stay, leaving the American even more perplexed, though this plot point remains only tangentially related to the narrative arc of the story as a whole. In the wake of these events, however, and in the shadow of Snorri’s lingering secret, Alex is left to weigh his priorities. Eventually, he finds his answer, but this doesn’t necessarily make for a happy conclusion.
Don’t pick up ‘Odd Saga’ for historical fiction; pick it up for the plot and stick around for the punchline.
The book is available on Amazon.com.
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