“People like it when you tell them things, in suitable portions, in a modest, intimate tone, and they think they know you, but they do not, they know about you, for what they are let in on are facts, not feelings, not what your opinion is about anything at all, not how what has happened to you and how all the decisions you have made have turned you into who you are. What they do is they fill in with their own feelings and opinions and assumptions, and they compose a new life which has precious little to do with yours, and that lets you off the hook.” (p. 73) — Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, translated by Anne Born.
I opened our Books & Bars discussion with my favorite quote from this quiet and introspective book which drew a surprisingly overflowing crowd of 100+ people. It obviously struck a chord in our cities of Scandinavians.
Some of the questions we pondered were:
Is Trond holding back emotions that are too painful? Do we eventually become our parents? Trond was making peace with his father, but did his mother really make him the man he became? Is the climax of the story when Trond stands up to fix the logging problem? The setting’s similarities to Walden – a book, chair, a cabin in the woods. Was it the author or was it the translator’s style which evoked Hemingway? How much of the English language book is Anne Born’s vs. Per Petterson? Do we lose something in translation but gain something by reading “foreign” books?
What do you think of any of these ideas we pondered? We welcome your opinion.
Some of the comments we had:
“I think there’s a lot of beauty in the subtlety of this book.” – Female, 25
“I’m not entirely sure what to make of it, yet, but I enjoyed reading it” – Male, 25
“I fear a “nothing happened” reaction from folks.” – Male, 35
“Such complaints typically reveal more about the reader than about what has been read, but it is a legitimate concern about this book. I enjoyed it a fair amount, but I wouldn’t dare recommend it to someone without already knowing they responded favorably to quiet, introspective stories. Jurassic Park this definitely is not.” – Male, 40
“The day after I finished the book, someone asked me what I thought, and I replied with, “It’s like listening to a story my grandpa’s telling me. It might be an interesting story, but it takes forty-five minutes to tell me he went to the store.” – Male, 30
“I agree with the comparison to a grandparent telling a story, but for me the connection is that sometimes a grandparent will talk about a shocking event from the past in an startlingly nonchalant tone of voice. The drama is still drama, but it’s no longer immediate. There’s been a whole lot of time to erode some of the sharp edges from those experiences; those edges would make the story more gripping, but if we’re being honest, that’s not the way this character would tell the story. ” – Female, 25
“Maybe the sharp edges had been dulled with time. But after a number of dulled pivotal moments, I felt I had been missing something quite pointed. Like he (and she, the translator) had lulled me into letting some yet more subdued climaxes sneak by. This was a grandparent story I felt a need to give time to. A grandparent who usually got down to brass tacks eventually. And more than that, has come to a place I wish to be, when I get there.” – Male, 35
As the moderator, I agreed with all these sentiments, good and bad. I liked it, but it did feel a bit longer than its actual length. It seemed like a long short story in which not a lot happens, but that is just in present time. Many life changing events are reflected on: an affair, a divorce, a war, an accidental killing of a twin brother, a young man comes of age, a wife dies accidentally and a sister dies leaving an old man possibly preparing for his own death, quietly and alone.
The introspective style may have made it more poignant with its non-traditional plot progression. And the major events felt hazier as though tempered by time. It was perhaps more true to life than a more typical narrative style would have been. “We do decide for ourselves when it will hurt.” – p. 238, the last line of the book really rang true. The David Copperfield idea of being the hero our own life story plays a big role for Trond. Things happen to us, but we ultimately decide how we are going to react to them and how they will affect our lives. Out Stealing Horses may reveal itself over time and stick with us.
Next month’s book is No One Belongs Here More Than You, Stories by Miranda July. We meet Tues, Jan 13th at Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis. We’re always open to discussion on our forum. Look for my next blog the Friday following our event. Make it a New Year’s resolution to join a book club…or start your own.
Thanks for reading,
Jeff Kamin, jeff AT booksandbars DOT com, Moderator, Books & Bars