Winter in Portland! Isn’t it great? You go to work in the dark and come home in the dark. But despite the cold (and dark), there is warmth and security in a crackling fire, and Norwegian novelist Per Petterson has written a wonderful novel, Out Stealing Horses (Graywolf Press, 258 pages, $22) about a man who, indeed, is comfortable with his surroundings in a twilight land—a land of forests and water—a place not unlike Oregon.
“Let the wolves howl, here by the fire it’s safe,” says protagonist Trond Sander, a widower who has moved away from Oslo to a cabin in the woods to seek peace and solitude in the autumn of his life. He appears to be content, though not necessarily happy. Or maybe vice versa, a bit of Scandinavian ambivalence. At any rate, Trond is more comfortable with his surroundings than with the people around him.
The story weaves back and forth in time seamlessly, between the present day and the days of the resistance in World War II. It is a story of family, especially of fathers. The characters are intertwined with place, almost an animated presence that an Oregonian would appreciate. Trond says there is a scent to new-fallen timber that permeates your clothes, skin and hair; after several days of logging with his father, he says, “I was forest.”
The young Trond, his family and friends go a-haying in the summer, log and ride horses. (Sorry, I won’t tell you the meaning of the book’s double-entendre title.) And over the years, he realizes those he thought he knew were not always what they appeared.
Petterson’s innovative writing style is blunt and graceful at once: spitting out short, brutally honest interjections, interspersed with nearly pagelong breathless sentences, dramatic at times and lyrical at others.
The book, translated by Anne Born, is a penetrating psychological profile that is at once inside and outside: memory and landscape. For those of us who live in Oregon, we are not unlike Trond, for while it appears we have stamped our image on the land, it is the land that has been stamped upon us.
READ: Winner of the 2007 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, Out Stealing Horses is available at most local bookstores.