Ava has a problem. Or at least two problems, but she only knows about the one at the start of the day. After breaking up with her love interest Jules,. Ava does not want to see them at the big box store that is Not Ikea that they work at. But a shift change and someone sick means that Ava and Jules are going to have to be on the same shift. But that’s cool, right? Big store, stay out of each other’s way. But no. When a grandmother goes missing in the store..and in fact goes missing through a multidimensional portal that has opened in the store, Ava and Jules are thrown together to find the grandmother...or at least the next best dimensional copy of her, a trip through the multiverse.
This is the story of Nino Cipri’s novella Finna.
Anyone who has worked in a store of any kind for a length of time, and I have¹ can and will recognize the essential truths of the novella. It IS soul crushing work, often thankless, usually very much underpaid, and with scheduling that is geared to the corporation, not to the employee, it can be very much a grind². And if you have to work with someone you don’t like, or worse, someone you broke up with, messily, the daily grind can feel like interminable hell.
Cipri captures all of this in Finna, and then adds the multiversal element of the portals that enter into other worlds randomly inside of their expy of Ikea, “LitenVarld”. Anyone who has spent time in Ikea knows it is an absolute maze, even with and especially given the shortcuts and secrets that people use to navigate the store. The topology of such stores appears to sometimes require a degree in mathematics to completely understand and appreciate. So, the author cheerfully uses that as an excuse for the place to have portals to other dimensions in the multiverse. It is an idea for me reminiscent of Joseph Deutsch’s A Subway Called Mobius [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Subway_Named_Mobius]. And of course, being a corporate dystopia, the store has ill-suited plans for what to do when a portal appears and someone goes wandering through.
And so a stage is set and a plot is made. I am a sucker for multiverse stories and I really enjoyed the friction between the two protagonists as they make their way through worlds, looking for the lost grandmother. The worlds that the pair wind up visiting are interesting, well sketched in limited space, and there is a good suggestion of an even wider multiverse out there, beyond the pages of the book. The novella has a real air of authenticity to it given its strong sense of corporate culture--of course a corporation that knew about a problem like this would handle matters in a way just like this. The novella feels like, if dimensional portals opened up regularly in big box stores was a thing, that the company in question would put half-cocked plans in place just like this.
It does feel like the 1990’s tv show Sliders (complete with a handy gadget to find gateways through worlds), and as a longtime fan of the show, I am here for that sort of feel and aesthetic. The gadget itself (the titular Finna) has, as it turns out, secrets of its own that I will not divulge here. It’s a lot of fun to follow Jules and Ava’s trip.
And of course, though, the heart of this novella is the broken relationship between Ava and Jules and how that works through their adventures. Their strengths, their weaknesses, how they drive each other to distraction, good and bad, and in the end, how they can maybe possibly make this relationship work *out there*. It’s a story with a lot of heart, and it is hardly easy and simple. Relationships can be awfully prickly even at the best of times and Ava and Jules are definitely in the spiny cactus end of such things.
And above and beyond the worlds, and the characters, the writing (especially when listened to in audio as I did ) just sings. We are entirely in Ava’s point of view, get a running commentary in her head about everything and really come to understand here in a very well written and effusive style. Ava can for you become your co-worker in this low wage box store hell, and you will in a short period of time, really get a sense of her and her deal, and why she fell for Jules, why their relationship cratered, and yet why they might still try and make a go of their relationship again.
It’s punchy, it's light, its fun. Finna it doesn’t wear out its welcome, and it’s a pleasant and short diversion from my normal mainline of much larger and longer works.
If you are interested in reading this and then the sequel, Defekt, our Sean Dowie has a review of the sequel here on Nerds of a Feather.
¹I was the second in command in the Price Integrity department of a grocery store, which meant I was responsible for making sure the prices in the system, matched what the ads and signs and shelf labels said, making sure the people changing those floor signs and labels did their job...and since my bosses tended to be lazy, was always the one sent to deal with customers who thought something was wrong, often vocally and loudly.
²What did I do New Year’s Eve 1999, you might ask? My boss had a case of the “didn’t wannas”s, so *I* spent New Year’s Eve at the store waiting to see and be able to react if Y2k was going to crash our computer systems.
Nerd Coefficient: 7/10
Reference: Cipri, Nino, Finna, Tordotcom , 2020
POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.