We all get sketchy at times

I am not very experienced, but you don’t have to get your nose bloodied very often to learn to keep it off someone’s fist either.

One thing I have learned is that what they say about writing not being easy is not what you might think.  Most people think about having to sit before a blank page and to think up things to say.  I suppose everyone is different from the other, but that view has not been my reality. More likely, for me, at least, it is what can I get away with and how can I charm my way out of this mess I’ve got myself into.

Per Petterson has done both.  He certainly got away with one when his narrator in Out Stealing Horses said “if this had been in a novel it would just have been irritating.” Well, it was a cheeky way to get around the all too obvious irony of Trond retiring to the woods only to live next to the boy who fifty years before had taken a place by Trond’s own father’s side.  I thought it worked the first time I read it. I still think it works.  I have to smile each time I think about it.

I wonder, though, if Trond’s disclaimer on the story of Odd’s death is as successful.  First, it comes near the end of that story, after the reader – worse if it is a second or third time reader – has started to think or has already been thinking, “Hey, how does he know all this?” Even when it is Trond’s father doing the telling it is difficult not to doubt some of the detail that no one, outside of either Lars or Jon when either was alone, could have known.  Well, Petterson got away with this one, too.  The first time.  But on my second read through the book, looking for evidence of how he put it together, well, I had a harder time buying it.  The disclaimer helped, allowed room for Trond’s ample imagination and sensitivity to play onto that subject of Jon and Lars and all, but it did not fully remove the suspicion that this was a difficulty that Petterson gambled on and lost a bit.

Well, there is plenty of good in this part of the book.  The story of Jon and his gun is common.  But it rang less true than I would want for two reasons.  One, I had not seen Jon in a domestic role prior to his forgetting to tend to his brothers as he had agreed.  He went hare hunting. But he didn’t seem like a boy who didn’t plan ahead. He seemed a magical boy, accomplished, daring, and smart. But domestic? Not too much. So, I would have felt better if that negligence had been better prepared for.  It seemed too convenient – like Faulkner’s Harry Wilbourne who finds $1,200 in a garbage can – for Jon to make one mistake, and only one.  The second part is a small complaint.  Why was Jon’s father in the woods? Didn’t he have to be going to Innbygd right away? What, did he need the shock of the killing to remind him to go?

The retelling of this sad story is a tough and a difficult to write part of the book: there is a horde of information given, none by eye witnesses. Those who were there weren’t talking.  I would that it worked as smoothly as the rest. I suppose also that Jon had to be got rid of at least for a time.  And his father too.  Neither disappeared in very acceptable ways.  And when Jon comes back? What and whom did he find? That part, I have yet to reread.  We will see about that.tj

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