Finna by Nino Cipri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Some stories just aren't novel length. This is why I've been so pleased with the recent resurgence of the novella, as it allows for better worldbuilding and characterization than a short story, but isn't a doorstopper that takes a few days to finish. This story seems just right for a novella, and though it ends in a way that allows for a sequel, it does have a sense of completion to it. The immediate problem has been solved, the characters have grown, and the indicated (and hopefully forthcoming) sequel will take both characters and storyline in a new direction.
This is the story of Ava and Jules, two former lovers who work at a big box store called LitenVarld, which is Sweden's (fictional?) equivalent to Walmart. One morning just a week after they broke up, Ava arrives at work and is roped into looking for a customer's grandmother, who seems to have vanished amid the endless showrooms. She's paired up (rather unwillingly) with Jules. During their search they discover the grandmother has stepped through one of the wormholes that spontaneously open up in LitenVarld's stores, and is lost in an alternate world...and both Ava and Jules are ordered to go after her, or lose their jobs.
(In fact, LitenVarld has a corporate video dedicated to this phenomenon, and a machine called FINNA that will track and find the errant customer--or an alt-universe replacement if said customer is dead. This is presented with such a dry matter-of-factness that it becomes believable. If you've ever worked at a Walmart or some other giant soul-sucking establishment, you know they would be quite capable of sending their employees into danger, without any overtime or hazard pay unless they stay in the multiverse longer than eighty hours, because, as Ava's boss says, "Customers always come first.")
So Ava and Jules set off, and while the three alternate universes they journey through are interesting in and of themselves, the real meat of the story is their characterization. They're finding their way back from bruised and broken lovers to being friends. Jules is a restless wanderer, and they decide to stay in one of the alternate worlds, fighting retail zombie clones who have followed them from one world to another and give Ava and the replacement grandmother a chance to escape. Ava is an anxious, confused young woman who works through the tangle of emotions over Jules following their breakup, and at the end returns to the world where she was forced to leave Jules behind, looking for them. (She also has the courage to quit LitenVarld, where she didn't before.)
This is a quiet, thoughtful sort of story, but it makes its points well, and it definitely grew on me. I hope there's a sequel, as I would love to see what Ava and Jules do next.
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