The ingredients of a rewarding life are at the center of the issues three college friends grapple with in The Trio, Johanna Hedman's leisurely yet confident debut novel, translated from the Swedish by Kira Josefsson. In the present day, a woman named Frances flies to New York to see Hugo, an expatriate from Sweden who teaches in America. She says she's worried about her mom. Her parents, August and Thora, were Hugo's closest friends at university in Stockholm. Most of this story chronicles their time in college and their relations, romantic and otherwise.
One of the novel's pleasures is the way Hedman compresses challenging themes into her work. Hugo lived briefly with Thora's parents, who ran a conglomerate that was the subject of a scandalous book. That's where he met August and Thora, the former a student of advertising who preferred making art, the latter a combative would-be lawyer. Through her characters, Hedman addresses themes of capitalism vs. idealism, politics and monarchy, and the complexities of love. The novel takes its time, but Hedman nicely dramatizes the dynamics among her characters, with Thora initially disliking Hugo before developing a frisson of attachment, and Hugo telling her she scares him because "you see through people." And it contains many memorable lines, such as Hugo's observation that, when Americans learn he's from Sweden, they "scrunch up their noses as though some distinctly Nordic quality might appear if they squint." The Trio is an appealing story of a romantic triangle from a gifted author. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer