Exhibit 19.12

Out Stealing Horses

This book, in both best and worst senses, is exactly what I expected when I joined the company book club: a well-reviewed, inoffensive novel about some elderly Scandinavian (I was very specific about what I expected). I think I’ve written before about the politics of how books get picked in clubs like these–and I use club loosely here as it’s really down to myself and at most two other people–and the priority isn’t to come up with something thought provoking, it’s to come up with something that everyone can finish. That way we can get together, have lunch, and shrug our shoulders when it’s time to talk about the book. With rare exceptions, no one seems to love or hate anything so the conversations on the book never quite seem to go longer than six or seven minutes before everyone has moved on to discussing the quality of the restaurant’s fries.

It’s fun.

And so Out Stealing Horses counts as a success in that we all finished and the restaurant’s fries were pretty good.

To be honest, it was a bit of a struggle to finish to the point where I put it off so long I had to wake up early to read the last thirty pages of the book the morning before the book club lunch. It’s not a bad book and, for me, it’s not a particularly good book either, just a slow story of a senescent Norwegian widower who takes to a remote cabin near the Swedish border in order to more or less relive the life he had with his father as a boy in 1948. I’m trying to think of an American equivalent, and the closest I can get is a leaner, more past-focused Richard Ford, a deeply intimate story that values it’s realism to a point near inaction. Or maybe it’s just that first-person, present tense narration which usually sets off warning signs for me. It’s not that there aren’t books written that way which I enjoy, it’s just that there are so many memorable ones I didn’t.

There’s also the run-on sentences. My god, the run-on sentences. I certainly don’t care typically, but they’re not put to any particular poetry here. The following isn’t the most egregious example, just one I found on a page I flipped to:

‘We’ll soon see to that,’ he says, pulling out the choke on his saw, which is a Husqvarna and not a Jonsered, and that too is a relief in a comic sort of way, as if we were doing something we are not in fact allowed to do, but which is certainly really fun, and he pulls the cord once or twice and slams the choke back in and then gripping the cord firmly he lets the saw sink as he pulls and it starts up with a fine growl, and in a trice the branch is off and cut into four parts.

But Petterson–I might suggest dropping that extra ‘T,’ Per. It’s going to make it much harder for you to find souvenir shotglasses with your last name on them and we all know ‘Per’ is a lost cause, too–does accomplish something really great here, and it’s all about his efficiency and structure. He moves seamlessly between the present and memory and he parallels just enough to make his storytelling efficient but rarely gimmicky. A lot of ground gets covered in these 230 pages, and it’s hard to think of any other contemporary American books that get us so inside a character in such little time. Not to mention the setting, some of the ancillary characters, hell, even the occasional Nazi. Somehow he managed a book that is both a slog to read and remarkably tight in its construction. I really don’t know how he did it.

And so maybe it’s not so much like Richard Ford’s work at all but just the Norwegian equivalent of Zadie Smith’s lyrical Realism (which I wrote about here). Certainly there’s a pretense to beauty here, if not in the composition than in the imagery which is lush and wild no matter the time period. In any case, it’s the kind of simple beauty that begs you to ponder it, deep rivers and cloudy skies and the like. Perfectly acceptable, maybe even meaningful, if you want to give it the time.

But reading this morning–flipping pages like it was a history textbook the morning before a test–it all felt a perfunctory, just another man thinking about how what was once promising grew so quickly old.

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