I Curse the River of Time/Per Petterson: Reflections

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

They sit together now, on the edge of my desk:  Out Stealing Horses, To Siberia, and I Curse the River of Time.  They are the novels of Per Petterson, an author born in Oslo and translated around the world, a man whose work draws the almost impossibly delicate balance between the deeply specific and the mesmerizingly vague.  Petterson's characters recreate the past, live the past, want to change it; they cannot.  Their present ticks toward the future, which is to say it ticks toward death.  No one is ever the person he or she would have wanted to be; no one can bear the mirror they throw up against themselves.

One must be patient with a Petterson book; one is rewarded, deeply, for one's patience.  One must accept the fugue state that the author visits upon his readers.  We are in places we don't recognize, but we know them.  We are among strangers, yet we live inside their heads.  We regret just as deeply, we crawl just as lowly, we hope more than we can should:  Where are we?

In I Curse the River of Time, due out shortly from Graywolf Press, Petterson gives us a 37-year-man on the verge of divorce and on the verge of losing the mother he disregarded in his past (she had offered a way out of his working-class heritage; he threw it back in his face; can they recover?).  I say 37-year-old man, but Avrid is boy-like, in so many ways—heartbroken for himself and, when he de-shrouds himself long enough to escape his own self pity, heartbroken for his mother.  He has followed his mother to a place where she has gone for peace.  He is haunted by memories; he's often drunk.  He needs caring for, but he must prove that he has the capacity for caring deep within himself.  It is 1989, and all across Europe, things fall apart.

The sentences are long and particulate in River.  They are also embellished and soft, tumbled together.  Some give directions (past the quay, down the street, around the corner, up the stairs).  Some ask.  Some want ("... and you suddenly realize that every chance of being the person you really wanted to be, is gone for ever, and the one you were, is the one those around you will remember.").  All of them crash and hum together, leaving the reader (this reader, at least) somehow intensified.

Thank you, Erin, for sending me a copy.


Anonymous said...


Amy said...

I have yet to read a Petterson book. If only I could finish a book these days. I think I can be patient for one of these.

Beth F said...

I picked this up at BEA based on Erin's recommendation. I may have to move it up in my list.

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