Friday, May 4, 2012

Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson

I put off reading this because of the title. I had it on my list because it has received honors from several places. But the title made me think of...stealing horses....and I did not like the idea. I thought maybe it would be cowboyish, that horses would come in for some ill treatment.

 But the title doesn't mean what it says. It has more than one meaning in the book, but neither has to do with actual stealing of horses. Trond Sander, 67, has chosen to live the rest of his life alone, in a remote cabin in snowy Norway. He'd had his city life and family but now he just wants to be alone with his thoughts. And his dog. His thoughts bring back memories of his youth, in particular the most significant events of that youth, the time his father left him.

The young Trond, 15, is on vacation with his father for the summer. The two travel by train a long way to a cabin in the country, near the border with Sweden. His father had acquired the cabin long ago, initially a mystery to Trond because the family's finances had never been great. But he loves being there, working side by side with his father on the cabin, on other tasks, and just being there by himself. He becomes friends with a neighbor boy and the two do everything together, until one day Trond says something that triggers a response in the other boy, making him suddenly remote.

It isn't long before he discovers what caused his friend to go quiet. But although Trond had nothing to do with the tragedy, he has still lost a friend. It is only later that pieces start to come together, glued by what a friend of his father's tells him. The story is both simplified and made more complex. And now, in his later yet still fit years, Trond has chosen to live with nature. But it doesn't end there. He meets his nearest neighbor by chance and discovers that he actually knows him from those many years ago. In a way, the circle closes.

 Elegantly and simply written, a story of love and loss. Isn't that what life is?

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