It's Fine By Me/Per Petterson: Reflections

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

When I am asked what author I recommend to thoughtful teen readers of the male persuasion, I don't blink.  Per Petterson, I say.  It doesn't get much better, in general, than a Per Petterson book.  And with his often adolescent male protagonists, his compelling Norwegian landscapes, his deliberate lonesomeness, his inclination to tell the truth about how growing up feels, Petterson speaks especially well to young, literary-minded male readers.

Out Stealing Horses ranks as one of my favorite novels of all time.  It's Fine By Me, Petterson's newest (translated by Don Bartlett) is equally strong—a coming-of-age tale about a working-class teen who won't remove his sunglasses when he steps into his new school and doesn't want the world to know, well, anything at all about him.  Audun Sletten stands on the outside, brooding.  He wrestles with his own story (a drunken father, a dead brother, a sister he loves, a girl he might like) discontinuously.  He makes a friend despite himself, yields a little because he has to, wants to protect his family but sometimes anger is all he has, all he is.  Anger and the Norwegian landscape, the white winters, the bracing lakes, the one or two teachers who notice, the men at the printing plant where he ultimately works, that best friend again—wry and helpful. 

The world recedes when I read Petterson.  I find his intelligence essential.  I talk about crossover books—YA to A.  But may the tide reverse and may Petterson's work cross into high school classrooms and become standard reading fare not just for adults but for teens.

A passage:

And I don't see any animals, but long Lake Elvaga is glittering in the sunshine.  About halfway, I stop and slide down and sit on the slope by the bank.  It is fine and open here, and the trees are naked.  I take out the roll-up and a little notebook I like to think is similar to the one that Hemingway used in the Twenties in his Paris book, A Moveable Feast.  I light the cigarette and try to do what he did:  write one true sentence.  I try several, but they don't amount to any more than what Arvid calls purple prose.  I give it another go, and I try to get down on the paper the expression on Dole's face when I dragged him by the leg across the floor of Geir's bar.  It's better, but not very good.


Sarah Laurence said...

I love Per Petterson too, especially Out Stealing Horses. It's wonderful to see a teen hero wrestling with a perfect sentence, but I wish he weren't smoking. By all means, strive to write like Hemingway but don't act like him!

Michael G-G said...

Thanks for the introduction, Beth.

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