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It’s Fine By Me

I dont want to beat it and I dont want to leave him here alone, and so I quickly do the only thing I can think of and put my arms around him, pull him close to me and hold him tight. Very tight. . . . Arvid loves his father. It has never occurred to me. . . I dont know if I dare let him go. If I do, I will feel naked and cold and lost in this world.

An adolescent awkwardly attempts to console a friend devastated by his fathers humiliation at the hands of young thugs. He is unable to express himself, shocked by the profound expression of love; he is vulnerable, cold and without place in the scheme of things should his ferociously tenuous grasp fail. The voice is Audun Slettens, the first person narrator of Per Pettersons Its Fine By Me, a coming-of-age story set in Oslo in the late sixties and early seventies. Readers unfamiliar with Petterson should note that this is an early work, written twenty years ago, preceding Out Stealing Horses which won Petterson such deserved praise in 2006. His publisher is releasing translations slowly; the present book is the third issued in the intervening years.

Petterson is an author whose voice immediately opens to a distinctive world - A dark world for the most part in which the chief character most often struggles against family and fate to achieve some sort of respectable life, one that offers a resolution born of resilience..

The author deals elliptically with time, but the foci of the ellipsis anchor the narrative: the death of Auduns younger brother and the brutality of his terrifying father. His mother puzzles him with her weakness and permissiveness; yet in the end, Audun can accept the man whom she is to marry. He finds extraordinary surrogates, an aged farmer and his wife, who provide the one respite that cushions his wariness.

The sole break in the first person account offers a sudden and disturbing view of the father, ranging as a hunter through the Norwegian woods a loner, predatory and self-sufficient. His reappearance at disparate times shocks Audun into defensive reaction. Yet he cannot contain the drunken energy (His father has a pistol which he too easily uses.) that this chaotic presence threatens. These scenes are grotesquely unforgettable a drinking buddy delivers Auduns father to their home in the bucket of a front loading tractor. Audun retreats as the father rears from his drunken sleep in anger.

Auduns one friend, Arvid, mentioned above, shares his left wing politics and rebelliousness, demonstrating this in the raising of an outlawed flag in the school yard. The two boys share intrigues and novels, discussing purple prose as well as the Vietnam War, and inevitably their dysfunctional families that teeter about them.

Auduns steady determination, his innate good sense, sees him through the awkwardness that he seems perpetually to court: a terrible beating for the support he gives Arvid, his friendship with an old man to whom he delivers newspapers, his rejection of the advances of a middle-aged woman on that same route.

The novel reaches a hectic peak in the scenes that surround Auduns work in a printing factory. In the company of his much older workmates, he begins to find a place as he develops real skills in the handling of the dangerous presses.

At every stage, the dialogue, even in translation, is thoroughly convincing. I could not but be engaged by Auduns daily struggles and the breadth of what should be the narrow compass of his life. One can only wonder at the delicacy of Pettersons rendering of the pains of coming of age.

I dont think that there is a best place to start if you havent read Petterson. The strength of the writing will inevitably lead you from one book to another. He is remarkable indeed.

Exelon

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I don't know. If that bit you quoted is representative of the best of Petterson, he might best have been left untranslated. To each his own, I suppose, but if vivid representations of violence and depravity at the heart of the human condition inspire the modern critic to rapturous praise, maybe we should just let Iran have all the bombs it wants and be done with it.

Dear David,Context is all. The passage exists as "part of." I had hoped that I had emphasized the redemptive aspect of the novel's development. A writer's clear vision need not be a form of acceptance. ETWhe

David --That passage isn't about violence. It's about a boy's transcending what could destroy him. Nobody is going into "rapture" over writing about violence here -- the opposite is true.

I wonder about the clarity of writing that wallows in gore and anomie. One can appreciate and admire skill in any craft, but a narrative voice that lacks forgiveness and compassion is likely to find a small audience beyond composition professionals.

I look forward to reading this. I have read two other works by Petterson (Horses and To Siberia), and I have found that he is a master at rendering the tragic childhood realization of one's parents' failingsit seems as though this book will continue that.I find some of his manoeuvres, especially in terms of setting up coincidences and parallels, to be contrived (writerly was how my wife described it).I have a lot of love for Cora Sandel's Alberta series. Obviously, both writers are Norwegian, so the comparison I draw between them in my own mind may be superficial, but since she is less well known than the other Scandinavian writers that are mentioned in discussions of Petterson, I always like to recommend her. There are especially parallels to be drawn between her work and To Siberia.

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About the Author

Edward T. Wheeler, a frequent contributor, is the former dean of the faculty at the Williams School in New London, Connecticut.