An All-Clear in the End– But Not the One You Were Expecting

I will probably never understand why it takes me so long to get my head back on straight post-vacation. If nothing else, it’s at least a sign that I had an excellent time, and was thus able to forget everything real-world related. At any rate…

Out Stealing Horses: wow. While it didn’t take the turn towards disturbing teen relationships I suspected it might, it did offer plenty of unexpected occurrences and things for both narrator and reader to ponder. Had an American author taken on this story, there probably would have been a great deal more pained self-examination and a years’-long process of recovering from the self-torture an abandoned kid might have imposed upon himself, at least until some therapist-figure convinced him he wasn’t to blame for anything.

It’s precisely that lack of striving for a state of psychiatry-approved equilibrium that I value about this book. There’s almost a stoicism to it; a confrontation of restless ghosts, but one that just lets them come up and show themselves, receive the requisite amount of attention they demand, and then recede back into the far corners of memory, probably only until they start feeling neglected again. And the narrator’s awareness of what some might call faults– his ambiguous feelings towards various family members, for example– is present not in the activist mode of envisioning steps on the ladder of “well-being” to be climbed and conquered, but simply as self-awareness, and that’s that. Even the question that rose up in my mind– whether it’s preferable to live through a solitary existence without any outside connections, or to get through that same state of being knowing that there’s a slew of people out there who love and care about you, but whom you keep at a safe distance– really didn’t matter in the end– because the narrator probably wouldn’t have seen it as a relevant question. He’s ended up at the place he’s ended up, he can’t do anything about the past but acknowledge it, and now he’ll get by as simply as he can, period.

Other than being a solidly good book, Petterson’s work is also a reminder (especially to a standard American public convinced of the universal desirability of its brand of individual “happiness” at all costs) of what travel, face-to-face interaction with non-locals/-co-nationals, or just written exposure to someone else’s thoughts should do: remind you that there are multiple ways of looking at things– and maybe, following on that recognition, that you can at least investigate some of those paths before stressing out about adhering to the one you’ve been assigned.

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2 comments

  1. lostgander

    I'm glad you enjoyed it. I like your insight about the “lack of striving for a state of psychiatry-approved equilibrium.” I hadn't thought about that angle and how differently an American author might have approached the subject matter. But I think you are right; I think that is one refreshing aspect of the novel, that it does not delve into that line of excruciating self-examination. Personally, I find myself reading a lot less American fiction these days, and I think my reading mind is enjoying this much more cosmopolitan life.

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  2. Special K

    The only American authors I'm able to bring immediately to mind who don't go in for extensive navel-gazing are Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallce, two of my favorites in general. I'm about halfway through George Saunders' Tenth of December, and among other reasons, I'm really enjoying it for its refusal to engage in same. I'm sure I'm leaving out a sizable list of other authors– so maybe there's hope for the national literary landscape. Maybe?

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