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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

OUT STEALING HORSES--A NOVEL WORTH READING ANYTIME


I was looking for a novel by a Scandinavian author when Carol suggested this one. A lot of book clubs are doing Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses, and while I don’t think it’s a “new classic” as it is being touted, it is a very, very good book, and I like it so much that I hope to lead a book discussion on it.

I’d call it a WWII book, but it is set after the war and deals with the before, during, and after years. The setting offers insight into war-related character alterations that may last a lifetime, but the novel is not maudlin. The plot develops practically and almost inevitably as characters interact in ways they might not without the wartime flashbacks. How we react in times of trial often reveals hidden strengths. But our reactions might also reveal weaknesses that are inconsequential when the world runs smoothly. In this novel, war is not the only extreme source of pressure, so the book grows beyond one point of conflict. These other unusual sources of pressure and tension also cause irreversible changes in relationships. Perhaps this element is the foundation for the universal quality and themes of Out Stealing Horses.

I’d call it a “right of passage” book, but the idea of getting past a seminal event does not mean one can always find a way through the world’s maze. When that event involves a loss with reasons one must accept on faith or on conjecture, becoming a mature individual may remain a lifelong struggle. You can run, but in Out Stealing Horses, you cannot hide.

Petterson’s use of the first person narrative is a great approach. It allows him to leave things unexplained since the narrator does not know all the answers. It allows the reader to see that is the way life works.

Here’s a boy whose father leaves him, and more than fifty years later, for reasons only vaguely suggested, he goes off to live in a remote village. There he accidentally re-connects with a man he had known fifty years before under very solemn circumstances. While they recognize one another, neither can ask the questions they’ve hidden inside. Yet, much is revealed in their silences.

I definitely call Out Stealing Horses intriguing, interesting, stunningly descriptive, and revealing. I enthusiastically recommend it.

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