I’m not sure what I was expecting when I opted to review FINNA. I haven’t read the author’s previous writings and this was my first time stumbling into the TOR world of science fiction. Which is to say that, perhaps, I am not the target audience. Although FINNA dabbles in more than enough cynicism to suit my dark heart’s needs, it is ultimately a story hinging on the belief that another world is possible. It’s a belief I wholeheartedly champion, but whose execution left me, at turns, chuckling and at other turns confused throughout the book.
FINNA’s protagonists are two exes of less than a week, Jules (they/them) and Ava (she/her), who continue to work at the same godforsaken mega furniture store named LitenVärld, an IKEA approximation in an unknown city and country. Presumably it’s the US or Canada, an assumption I’m forced to make, and which I’ll get to shortly. The store seems as large as IKEAS are wont to be, with multiple showrooms cheekily nicknamed by the employees–“Nihilist Bachelor Room,” “Midlife Crisis Mom Room,” and “Gen X Family with ‘80s Nostagia Room” for example. Both characters are miserable, because of their recent heartache and also because of their experiences in customer service—in addition to the known horrors of working in retail for low wages, Jules is nonbinary but is constantly being misgendered. A portal to another realm opens up and into it escapes an elderly customer who Jules and Ava must now retrieve, or risk being fired.
Why? Because capitalism.
This is the logic driving most of the book’s sci-fi adventures and critiques grounded, maybe too much, in the realities of this world. Even when facing certain death, Jules and Ava can’t help but remark upon the forces responsible:
“‘We’re going to die out here and it’s my fault,’ Jules wailed, their voice breaking in the middle under the salt water’s assault. […]
‘Listen to me! [Ava] shouted. ‘This is not your fault. It’s [their boss] Tricia’s for sending us. And corporate’s, they’re the ones that cut the FINNA teams in the first place.’
A moment of quiet. Jules’s breathing was beginning to even out. ‘I guess that’s true,’ they said shakily.
‘Capitalism,’ said Ava.
Jules huffed a laugh. ‘Yep.’”
As a genre, speculative fiction has been the go-to for (re) imagining worlds where those marginalized here are empowered elsewhere. Yet in FINNA, a book also concerned with place, locating the characters proved challenging, primarily because of the dialogue. No matter the realm they’re in, Ava and Jules lean heavily on a snark that is less a critique of capitalism and other systemic oppressions than a litany of references gesturing at a shorthand that I don’t speak. Whether debating the facts of their relationship or how to keep from getting killed by carnivorous furniture, the speech and the supporting narration require even the knowing reader to fill in the blanks of these references.
In a way it reminds me of the tension I often feel with social media, where snark thrives as the dismissive cousin of criticism. Snark is useful when wielded to shut down inane arguments but becomes more than a bit rote when applied heavy handedly to multiple types of intimate and personal interactions. While I love a good read, meme, clapback, as much as the next, I understand that the platforms’ emphasis on brevity doesn’t always allow for more generative engagement. At the same time, some of the best things I’ve read in recent years have been in-depth twitter threads, beautifully crafted Instagram and Facebook stories. There’s always room to push back against form.
I’ll also admit I’m slightly mystified by the idea of a novella. Far too long to be a short story and far too short to explore the minutiae that most novels engage, the form insists on a focused engagement with the subject but doesn’t require depth be sacrificed for lack of space. Which is to say that a light read such as this one needn’t be a light engagement with the subjects of critique.
Nonetheless, Cipri’s overarching points about capitalism’s dehumanizing effects are well-taken; I hope we can all acknowledge it is actually, legitimately killing us. Moreover, as I eased into the book’s pace and style, I felt the writing flow more easily. Though it took longer than I would have liked to get into it, Cipri crafts an engaging and lively read that I finished in two days’ time. The parts where I found myself most engaged were during the heightened action scenes, the travel between differing worlds, and the rich details of each multiverse. There’s an eyebrow-raising scene where one world’s cafeteria resembles the “real-life” lunchroom at LitenVärld, but requires a particularly extractive form of payment that made me physically wince.
Cipri’s writing shines most in their creation of distinct versions of characters who exist in different multiverses. The recurrent theme of alternative possibilities is a strong one, and it nicely unifies the book right through to the end. One beautiful moment of dialogue is where the implications of infinite possibilities become clear:
“‘Do you think there’s a universe out there where we didn’t break up?’ [Ava] asked Jules. Jules was quiet a moment, then answered. ‘There’s infinite universes.’
‘So there are universes where we … worked. Where my brain wasn’t garbage.’
‘And I didn’t run away from my problems.’ […]
‘Infinite iterations,’ Jules said.”
As it should be, the ending is inconclusive. But rather than fill in the blanks, this time the ask is for readers to imagine a multitude of endings and, hopefully, beginnings. Which is a task I can always get behind.
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