“You know, I actually think about that an awful lot, like, what is our purpose in life? Why am I here? I always think about some little kid being like, ‘What’d you do with your life?’ And me being like, ‘Well, I sold a bunch of floors.’”
These are the words of Bjarki Thor Gunnarsson, the young man who manufactures the widest, purest, most metaphorical pine floorboards on the planet.
As Matthew Clark—a carpenter by trade—begins researching a magazine-style essay about Bjarki and his American Dream Boards, he comes to discover that nothing is quite as it seems. Santa Claus arrives by helicopter. A wedding diamond disappears. A dead coyote jumps to its feet. And then, at a Thai restaurant in central Maine, Bjarki is transformed into an eggplant.
In Bjarki, Not Bjarki, Clark wants nothing less than to understand everything, to make the world a better place, for you and him to love each other, and to be okay. He desires all of this sincerely, desperately even, and at the same time he proceeds with a light heart, playfully, with humor and awe. As Clark reports on the people and processes that transform the forest into your floor, he also ruminates on gift cards, crab rangoon, and Jean Claude Van Damme. He considers North American colonization, masculinity, the definition of disgusting, his own uncertain certainty. When the boards beneath our feet are so unstable, always expanding and cupping and contracting, how can we make sense of the world? What does it mean to know another person and to connect with them, especially in an increasingly polarized America?
“Matthew Clark has refinished the floorboards of America with so gently glimmering a new sheen of myth that the smartest among us will immediately invest in the cushiest of slippers for fear of muffling their stories again. Bjarki, Not Bjarki is a masterfully ecstatic, surprising, and humane debut.”—John D’Agata
“In Bjarki, Not Bjarki, Matthew Clark is trying to write about everything all at once: love and heartbreak and loss; wood and work and loneliness; friendship and privilege, masculinity and honesty and the sad limitations of both. This is a story that is overflowing with thought and reflection, abundant in self-examination, excessively self-critical, overburdened by its ownership of the past. The result: a lyrical eruption of bittersweet joy, created by a writer who is totally fine in a rapturous state of being lost. Bjarki, Not Bjarki is a lot like the state (Maine) where Clark’s story takes place: full of contradictions and wilderness, always committed to the impossible question of what it means to be a free and honest person in the world. Matthew Clark is a writer who swings for all the fences.”—Jaed Coffin, author, Roughhouse Friday
“At the edges of this finely told tale hangs a fog of dark matter (troubles in love, misinformation, guns, insurrection, a jokey racism) while at the center stands a lumber mill in Maine, where men practice a useful craft (as best they can) and befriend one another (ditto). If the fog surrounding them (and us) is ever to lift it will be thanks to voices as attentive, amusing, and generous as that of Matthew Clark. Bjarki, Not Bjarki is the kind of book we need right now.”—Lewis Hyde
“Unlike so many of us, Matthew Clark refuses to concede defeat at the hands of our country’s yawning cultural and political divisions. In Bjarki, Not Bjarki, he shows that empathy must be built on actual understanding, and his writing has the self-awareness, the freshness, and the beauty to help us all understand.”—Jeremy Eichler, author, Time’s Echo: The Second World War, the Holocaust, and the Music of Remembrance