Friday, June 27, 2008

Out Stealing Horses

One of the finest books I've read this year, Per Petterson's novel (translated by Ann Born) is newly out in paperback and worth picking up. Here's my review.


A finalist for the 2008 L.A. Times’ Book Prize, this complex yet wholly accessible story about youth and age, secrets and discovery, is thoroughly enjoyable. Told in the first-person voice of 67-yr.-old Trond Sander, the tale of life in Norway near the Sweden border is full of compassion and sadness, fueled by the recollections of the narrator when he was a 15-yr.-old boy in the summer of 1948. The novel jumps back and forth between the older Trond, at the brink of a new millennium, and his younger self, enamored with his unreadable father and desperate to understand his world.

The writing style is simple, lyrical almost; understated yet bursting with Hemingway-esque emotion buried under the objective narrative front. Trond is a man damaged by his past, searching for peace and solace in his new forest home, yet unable to escape the events of his youth that transformed him into a man and stripped him of his trusting nature and innocent outlook. He is a man plagued by doubts of his own worth, and simply awaiting his own, inescapable, demise.

The novel is built around a few specific “events” that illuminate young Trond’s summer of devastation, and aids the reader in unraveling the emotionless stance of the older narrator. It unfolds like a carefully constructed mystery, with clues doled out slowly yet at the perfect moments, aiding to the effect of a heightened resonance and meaning with each truth revealed. The writing is always effective, always crisp and engaging. The final passage of the novel is a bit unsatisfactory, ending with a whimper that feels like there are a few strands left unresolved, but the overall experience of the novel is one of engagement and discovery. A definite recommend.

Miss Lonelyhearts

A quick review of a book I read very recently.


Published in 1933, this short work by the author of THE DAY OF THE LOCUST shares a strikingly similar tone of despair and desperation with its Hollywood-focused counterpart, yet has its own unique voice, as well. The protagonist, referred to only by the name of his newspaper column, Miss Lonelyhearts, is drawn by Nathanael West as a pathetic yet endearingly earnest man, who strives to uplift the world of others as an attempt to improve the fortune of his own life. Unfortunately, he fails at every endeavor, presented as an educated, almost erudite man with scholarly thought, who cannot quite find his place or connect with those around him. He is full of impotent rage, repressed sexual drives, and a need to destroy everything that comes in contact with him.

The literary language is always interesting and unique, striving for heights of elegance, absurdity and truth. Miss Lonelyhearts’s boss and rival, Shrike, has the most entertaining dialogue, full of bluster and imagination, satire and insight. The book is a modernist’s dream, filled with desperate characters, awkward dramatic events, and a bleak, hopeless ending. Worth a read, despite (or because of) its savage, unrelenting nature.