176 of 181 people found the following review helpful
A calm and quiet place,
This review is from: Out Stealing Horses: A Novel (Paperback)There are bound to be people annoyed and disappointed by 'Out Stealing Horses', as it is not the traditional narrative they may be used to. Instead of building toward a climactic finish, or revealing a fateful detail that ties together several unrelated events, 'Out Stealing Horses' is a dreamy recitation of memories and the present day, as experienced by an aging widower in rural Norway. The 'payoff', if it can be called that, is not a gratification of the reader's curiousity, but an impressionistic portrait of the sum total of a life.
Alternating between the summer of 1948 and the present, Per Petterson writes of Trond Sanders, who is essentially trying to disappear from the world after three years of mourning for his wife. He has moved to the country, and obsesses over tiny details of his new existence. At the same time, he examines the events from 60 years earier, when he spent a season with his father, a former member of the underground during the Nazi occupation.
It's surprising how big this story is, considering the fragmentary approach Petterson uses. Big in the sense that every page seems loaded with meaning, as if even Trond's stumbling around his run-down cabin hides a secret parallel with an earlier part of his life, or else foreshadows things to come. This sort of storytelling almost promises a compelling denouement, though if that is what the reader is lookng for, he may feel cheated. Instead, Petterson hews closer to reality, shunning the contrived shortcuts fiction is capable of and portrays a complex man who has no more answers to his life's meaning than any of the rest of us.
I found Petterson's style very rustic and refreshing - like a drink of water from a clear stream, or a walk through an untended, leafy wood. Though this may not be entirely apt, he seemed to strip his narrative of any modernity, or at least seperate it from a materialistic point of view. There is nothing concrete in the story to support that feeling, it is more of a general sense I had from his crafting of the novel. Unfortunately, I also found it almost too tenuous in its connections, and some events at the beginning a little too coincidental. Petterson even addresses that, saying (as Trond) after one such event that if he'd read it in a book, he would have disliked it.
In one sense, 'Out Stealing Horses' could be considered a coming of age story - a genre I usually am not interested in - but in another, deeper sense, I believe Trond revisits this critical summer in his youth subconciously looking for connections to the life that followed from it. Not so much a 'coming of age' story then, but an examination of the past to determine personal meaning. If there are any clues, he knows that they lie in this remote part of his life, but as I mentioned before, Petterson arrives at the same answers we all do when embarking on such a errand. Because he does so with such a poetic pace and with calmly quiet observations though, it is a sublime task for us to follow along.
'Out Stealing Horses' is not liable to become a classic in and of itself - I do not think it has quite that much staying power - but as a meditation on the intertwining of past and present, it is powerful without plucking at the reader's emotions, or sliding into melancholy. Simple and intelligent, there is room for different interpretations, and at the same time, it is a relief from the frenetic page turners churned out by publishers today. Petterson has created a calm and quiet place, one perfectly suited for the tale he has to tell.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 1, 2012 3:27:03 PM PST
H. Schneider says:
Outstanding review, BB.
I may not have seen it earlier, so probably I did not buy the book on your recom, but I certainly would have. H (am reading and liking it now)
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 2, 2012 5:25:42 AM PST
Bryan Byrd says:
Glad you're enjoying it - I'll be looking forward to your thoughts on it when you finish.
Posted on Jun 18, 2012 9:47:14 AM PDT
White Raven says:
Had I read this book when I was younger I would have had a different view of it. Now that I am 64 I find that the structure reflects my state of life.....the musings about the past and present are mixed together. I flash back down those long years and use them as a mirror for who I am now. As we age our approach to the future changes since there really isn't a lot of time left. Pettersen captures my time of life so well. I think the fragmentary approach is perfect.
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 18, 2012 2:08:50 PM PDT
Bryan Byrd says:
I find it quite amazing how so many books that would not have been open to me as a younger man are accessible now.
Thanks for leaving a note!
Posted on Aug 7, 2012 4:26:06 PM PDT
Digital Rights says:
Really great review Bryan. You hit all the high notes. I liked your "rustic" observation and rather ironically this turned into a page turner for me as he created such curiosity for what would unfold next. I do chuckle a bit wondering how many men with are story to tell are out in the Scandinavian woods.
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