School shootings have become a sickening reality, and in Quicksand, Swedish author Malin Persson Giolito explores such an incident through the eyes of Maya, an 18-year-old girl who’s accused of aiding and abetting her boyfriend murder several people. The novel opens in the aftermath of the crime with Maya cradling the dead body of boyfriend, Sebastian Fagerman amidst the corpses of her friends. Then the story moves to the trial.
At issue here is the subject of complicity. Did Maya plot with Sebastian? How much did she know of his intentions? Maya admits shooting her boyfriend Sebastian and her best friend, Amanda. How could Maya have murdered her best friend, and yet did she really like Amanda?
Amanda was spoiled, of course, she was–by her mom, her dad, her therapist, and the person who took care of her horse. But it wasn’t just about clothes and gadgets. It was something else. She had the same attitude towards her parents, her teacher–all authorities, including god–that she did toward people in the service industry, like they were all concierges at a luxury hotel.
As the trial opens and Maya is prepped by her lawyers, we see the events unfold in the courtroom through Maya’s eyes. This is a teenage girl who is largely disaffected and who views the adult world with disdain. Maya’s affluent parents have hired the best defense lawyer money can buy, and Maya has nothing but scorn for the two “helper attorney[s],” secretly mocking them in her head.
While the trial unfolds, Maya goes back in time to the beginnings of her relationship with Sebastian Fagerman, the son of “the richest man in Sweden.” Sebastian held wild parties with limitless drugs at his home, and indeed Sebastian’s life, complete with yachts and private jets is not enviable but a gilded nightmare of instability–a fact that Maya inevitably struggles with.
Quicksand effectively shows how a teenage girl got into a situation that she was unable to deal with. Maya’s parents are too awed by the Fagerman reputation to be other than delighted that Sebastian is dating their daughter. When things turn sour, Maya is so isolated and immature, she is unable to connect with anyone outside of her nightmare situation. Her disaffectedness makes her seem tough, but breakthrough that, and she’s actually quite brittle. In Maya, author Mallin Persson Giolito creates a not-particularly-likable teenage girl who thinks she knows all the answers and who feels superior to all adults. While most of her thoughts seemed to fit with those of an arrogant 18 year old privileged girl, occasionally, very occasionally, some of her thoughts did not. Maya has the habit of latching onto the words of adults as an inauthentic, meaningless ‘speak.’ Everyone, according to Maya, “has such a difficult time saying what they mean in plain language,” and yet isn’t she guilty of the same thing?
What a typical teacher answer: “that’s an excellent question …” “I hear what you’re saying…” “It’s not black and white…” “It’s not that simple …” Those kinds of answers all mean the same thing: they have no idea what they’re talking about.
But fine, If it’s difficult to know what’s true and who’s lying, if you can’t be sure, then what do you do?
While the setting, mood and atmosphere are excellent here, the details of the past bog down the narrative–say for example when Maya presents (in her head) 4 alternative ‘after the party’ scenarios. I went back and forth feeling sympathy and dislike for Maya. At times, it’s easy to see how this teenager was forced to cope with scenarios that were way beyond her maturity level, but at other times I was out of patience with her. Underlying the plot there’s a strong undercurrent of privilege. How do parents who raise their children to think they’re ‘special’ and above the herd, manage to eradicate arrogance and superficiality? How do you teach the children of the cossetted ultra-rich? How to teach the degradation of poverty? The humiliation of need?
Translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles