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Published: Skybound Books - September 25th, 2018
The Electric State combines succinct text with expansive landscape imagery, each equally weighted in importance among the pages. Sometimes, the paintings illustrate the text; other times, they stand on their own, filling in narrative gaps that would be left otherwise empty in a text-only medium.
Set in a "future 1997", where a mid-90s Oldsmobile takes center stage among images of a dilapidated late-century suburbia yet contrasted with monumental constructs of an unspecified war - gigantic fallen gunships that litter the countryside, spherical processing centers nearly a hundred meters across and half-submerged into a hilltop - the story of The Electric State comes together like a puzzle, starting from a girl and a robot coming across the Olds after wandering the blowing sands of the Mojave desert, and piece by piece, page by page, learning more and more, ending with a nearly complete picture of Michele's life, with only the barest of details that don't matter to her directly leaving a tantalizing taste of the wider world. The paintings evoke nostalgia from those, like me, who grew up in that time, seeing that style of house is slight disrepair, of seeing cars that at the time seemed sleek but nowadays seem hopelessly boxy, and then takes that nostalgia and inserts something uncomfortable into it, something obviously not belonging to the era - or maybe the discomfort comes from these sci-fi constructs that seem to leap off the covers of 90s dollar store mass markets seeming so at home from what I actually remember from the time.
The book rewards repeat readings, as well; some pages are white text on black rather than black on white and you come to realize that it's more than just exposition - but to say more would be to rob you of that "aha" moment yourself. I look forward to reading this again, puzzling over it and finding pieces that I'd missed the first time through, and moving onto Stålenhag's other works in a similar vein. ~ Reviewed by Andrew Bugenis