Express Reviews 

What should be on your nightstand this month.

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"Oslo is not a city where people are in the habit of craning their necks and looking up," Norwegian novelist Ullmann writes in this strange tale of love and death. "Oslo is a city where people look either straight ahead or at the ground, which is why no one ever notices the things that are forever happening high above." It is one of those happenings-high-above that drives Ullmann's tale: Stella, the book's enigmatic center, plunges from the roof of an apartment building. We meet her ex- and current husbands, her teenage daughter, and those who watched her fall. Our acquaintance with her is at first tangential, as if we were house-sitting and had the opportunity to examine her bookshelf and dresser drawers. Stella herself does not address us until nearly two-thirds of the way through the book. Her fresh and necessarily vulgar voice breaks up the pearly mist of Ullmann's too-beautiful prose. Apart from Stella and her daughter -- a vibrant and funny girl who offers memories in equal measure with horny adolescent fantasies -- the novel is populated by characters whose speech takes a distant, mysterious tone. Ullmann's technique is thoughtful and her writing fluid, but Stella is marred by too much setup and too little payoff. Though squat, flat Oslo is not a city of neck-craners, the book could benefit from a closer examination of the woman atop that ultimately fatal height. -- Allison Landa


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