Sorrow is a bottomless well. Why then, must so much art engage with it on only the most superficial level, returning time and again to that most shallow and ubiquitous form, immature heartbreak (see: country music)? It’s not that it’s a poorly realized story, it’s that Heuvelt chose the most banal and maudlin topic possible. But then I think that is very much Heuvelt’s point, which leaves me conflicted.
The Day the World Turned Upside Down is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. One day, without explanation, the world turns upside down. As is down is now up and up now down. Dogs, cars, even buildings fall into the sky. Woe be to those outside at the time. And most other people. As the narrator says, most of the world’s population died that day; they either “died on the spot or protruded convulsing from holes in plasterboard ceilings.”
Our protagonist, though, doesn’t have most of the world on his mind. He can only think of one person—his very recent ex-girlfriend. No, that’s not quite right. He can only think of one person—himself. And that leads him on a quixotic quest to take his ex her goldfish. He isn’t concerned with the billions who died that day. He isn’t concerned when the first person he sees slips and plummets up to her death. He isn’t concerned about the bloodstains under the cast-iron tub removed to the ceiling of his girlfriend’s apartment. Or rather, he is, but only about what it meant. That his ex had spread her legs for another man the same night she broke his heart.
The Day the World Turned Upside Down was originally written in Dutch. It’s beautifully written and translated. The prose is often lyrical and the symbolism powerful. Frequently too powerful, driving home the banality of the subject matter. I get it, but I can only take so much of it.