Monday, July 13, 2009

Out Stealing Horses

Do food metaphors apply to reading experiences? Some leave a lingering taste; some I can't stop nibbling. Some leave me empty, still hungry, but not necessarily for more of the same. Some are feasts, like the picnic I enjoyed in Napa Valley with my husband and friends perhaps 17 years ago, but which my senses still recall vividly. I notice that sometimes the books that I read more slowly, the ones that don't have rip-roaring, page-turning action, tend to linger longer in my head. Others that move quickly with narrative momentum fade more quickly.

This past week, as I read Per Petterson's novel Out Stealing Horses, I found the reading slow, especially in the beginning. The novel is structured so that it moves back and forth between the present, in which the protagonist Trond is in his sixties, to 1948 when he was in his early teens. He also learns details from events in his father's life a few years earlier when the Germans occupy Norway (the setting of the novel). Much of the story takes place inside his head in fact, and many questions are never answered in the story, yet the more I read, the more I felt compelled to keep reading.

The satisfaction came in the way the author wove certain subtle threads through the novel, including the one with which he finishes the book. Nothing about the book is didactic or heavy-handed. There really are no bad guys in the book (even the German soldiers are revealed sympathetically as young boys who under different circumstances would not be considered evil or frightening.) Bad things do happen, though, through the course of the story--an accidental death, apparent adultery, abandonment by a parent. In the course of the story, though, he reveals how this boy (who is actually an older man through much of the book) became a man.

No comments: