Benny & Shrimp
by Katarina Mazetti (Translated by Sarah Death)

Penguin, 2009. ISBN 978-0-143-11599-1.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 08/24/2009

Fiction: Mainstream; Fiction: Romance

Benny & Shrimp reminds me of George Gershwin's "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." Two more unlikely people could not have caused the electricity that buzzed back and forth between a young widowed librarian and a hard working dairy farmer. This was certainly a case of "po-tah-toes" and "po-tay-toes." To increase the absurdity of the pair, they smile at each other over family gravestones for totally different reasons. However, the exchange of smiles is enough to create a storm of emotions.

Of his first smile—"It had sun and wild strawberries and birds singing and expanses of glittering water in it. And it was directed at me, trusting and proud as if he were a child presenting me with a misshapen birthday gift. The corners of my mouth were still stretched wide."

Mazetti writes a racy tale full of delight and tangled sheets—in Benny's musty, dusty, doily filled farm house and Shrimp's minimalist, organized apartment. There is no blatant description of heaving bosoms, such as one would find in so many romance novels. The author leaves the details up to the imagination of the reader. The writing is consistently fine, clever and witty. Some credit might possibly go to Sarah Death, who translated the story from the Swedish original.

The chapters alternate with Benny's and Shrimp's voices: "We started arguing about the news. She's sort of left-wing: not exactly a champagne socialist, more an herbal tea lefty; and I defend the employers because I see myself as a small businessman."

Benny & Shrimp is a frolic even though it addresses serious issues such as love and marriage, biological clocks, and the unceasing work of a dairy farmer. The story's surprise ending leaves us wanting more.

Katarina Mazetti was nominated for the Prix Cevennes in France in 2007 and has worked as a journalist, teacher and author of books for readers of all ages. For 20 years she lived on a small farm in northern Sweden. Visit her website.

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