The pain of Out Stealing Horses


Maybe it’s because I am experiencing something I did not understand when I was ten and my mother was forty-two.

There she was again, sitting in her chair.  She hadn’t started to use the throw she knit yet. That came later, and she sure wasn’t using the pansy- patterned throw I bought for her years after I move out and on, the one I now spread across my legs when I am reading at night and am too lazy to climb in bed. She was sitting there again as I was bouncing around the living room looking for excitement.

“Why are you always sitting so much?” I asked.

She gave me her best, most exasperated look and laughed. (She spared me my father’s famous and oft-repeated wisdom, “You’ll find out”).

“I’m pooped. I’m tired.”She laughed again. I guess I wasn’t there all day for the cleaning, laundry, cooking three meals and getting up an hour ahead of every body else and finally turning out the lights and turning down the thermostat. In between, she held a full-time job at the hospital kitchen. Later, I found out she deserved to sit down and put her feet up.

Well, I did find out, Dad. I know the kind of tired she felt.  It doesn’t hurt so much. It just won’t go away. You can’t complain about it so much and you know that the alternative is downright out of the question. What a pain it is to grow old.

But pain is not confined to the old.  Thank heaven for that. But the old have a deeper appreciation for pain and spend less time trying to avoid it. Now whether that is true or not Per Petterson in Out Stealing Horses certainly investigates pain, and since his narrator is both a 15 and a 67-year-old throughout the book, we get to see pain of the young and the old.  The fact that it is the same person suffering these pains tells us something about how life, and suffering, changes us and changes our view of ourselves and our lives.

Okay, let’s start with the centerpiece of the pain theme.  Trond avoids cutting the nettles. Questioned, he tells his father, “It will hurt,” after which dad pulls them up one after another with his bare hands. Now don’t get the idea that I am still whimpering after being stung years ago working on the grounds-crew at the university. But, hey, Trond was right. Nettle stings hurt. They really hurt. Dad, though, had, as we find out, suffered much deeper pain: the pain of his homeland being overrun by brutal brigands, the pain of making wrong choices, the hurt of loss even before it really became loss.  The man had lived.  He tells his son, “You decide yourself when it will hurt.”

I am not sure that this means we dismiss the pain and go on, or if you initiate painful actions only when you are sure you must, or that you simply appreciate the pain for what it is: proof that you are alive. It has to be that this is a lesson father teaches son, and Trond could never forget a scene like that. So, what do we find him doing later on?

Out stealing horses with Jon,  fifteen-year-old Trond crunches his balls jumping from a tree to a horse. Most boys know how that feels since there is no end of other boys trying to kick them there, usually with eventual success. The result as it was with Trond is direct vomiting.  Then, Trond is thrown from the horse across a barbed wire fence slashing his arm, landing hard and believing he is paralyzed. Not long afterward he is confronted with the psychic pains of loss as his summer friend who minutes before had seemed as he normally was, a wild and wonderful boy, seems to go insane. Immediately following, Trond is attacked by pseudo-asthma and then by a drenching, chilling thunderstorm. Now that’s painful. (Who called this a quiet novel?)

How does the old Trond respond to pain.  First, he is philosophical about it: “I have been lucky, I say to myself. I can go out to a neighbour in the night when he is searching for his dog, and it will take me only a couple of days and I will be OK again.”  Yes, even though he needs his sleep which will be disturbed, Trond considers himself lucky.  The irony of this passage was clear to me only at the end of the book, maybe even beyond that. In any case,  the old narrator is watchful if not careful of his body, especially his back, and has to plan his activities to avoid exhaustion which does overtake him.  I must say, both the young and old Trond suffer weak stomachs.  That much did not change.

Pain and injury – Trond nearly disables himself jumping out of his bunk – play major roles in the book.  But it is the special way that Petterson employs them, Trond’s approach to them, the tools he uses to manage them, especially when old, that bond the father with the son and the young narrator with the older one.  Among the many skills his father taught him, although he let his son explore and make his own mistakes frequently, handling the pain of life proves to be one useful and important.  Even the boy with the golden trousers, the lucky devil in life, Trond needed this skill. I wonder just how much forethought  his father, who was a noted planner, gave to imparting that lesson. It would be most important were Father not be there to continue the training.

Tim

Tell it like it is!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s