Sunday, October 24, 2021

Out Stealing Horses compared to I Curse the River of Time

 

In Out Stealing Horses Trond Sander is devoted to his father much as Arvid is attached to his mother in I Curse the River of Time.  In the latter we don’t learn about Arvid past the age of 37.  In the former, Trond is 67 looking back on a time when he was a boy.  

I sampled some reviews, in which the writers preferred Out Stealing Horses to I Curse the River of Time.  I wonder how much this preference has to do with the out-of-doors attraction to horses, horse-back riding, logging and living in a somewhat prepper situation as opposed to Arvid’s more family and town oriented situation.  Arvid seems more despicably neurotic than Trond, and perhaps will turn more resolutely to drink after his mother dies, but Trond faces his disappointments by desensitizing himself.  When he took his pension he didn’t purposely abandon his daughters, he was overwrought because of the death of his wife and sister and didn’t give them a thought.  The eldest daughter, Emma, through great effort tracks him down.  She wonders out-loud if he’d rather she hadn’t, and being honest he tells her he isn’t sure.

But as she gets ready to leave, in a panic he realizes that comment is wrong and begs her to stay.  She assures him that she has no intention of abandoning him now that she knows where he lives, but tells him to get a telephone.

The ending of I Curse the River of Time is much more powerful than that of Out Stealing Horses.  I was initially disappointed with the latter, but upon thinking it over I realized that Petterson had told me everything I needed to know: Jon’s mother and Trond’s father were in the resistance during the war.  Jon’s father was not and by not wiping out footprints, despite her needing him to, he let his wife be found out by the Nazis.  Trond’s father rescues Jon’s mother and perhaps during the time they are away they become romantically involved.

Jon’s mother has the strength of Arvid’s mother and is better balanced.  Furthermore, Jon’s mother, being in the resistance and later a hard worker in support of logging activities is much more attractive.  Also, she was clearly not a supporter of the Nazi occupation, and we may be pardoned for suspecting that Arvid’s mother was.  

Trond comes to understand that his father is not as wonderful as he had imagined.  His father using his wartime skills, carries out an escape from his family.  Trond three years after his sister and wife dies does something seemingly similar, but it isn’t planned, he simply couldn’t find in himself the ability to be around people; which later when his daughter finds him he discovers to be a correctable problem. 

We do learn a bit about what happened to Jon’s mother.  Jon, after the accident that caused the death of his brother Odd, went to sea and spent a few years traveling the world.  Eventually he returned and took over the family farm where his mother was living.  [No mention is made of Trond's father; so if he initially left his family to be with Jon's mother, the relationship didn't last.] Jon's brother Lars, who had been running the farm, did something akin to what Trond has done, and moved off to a remote cabin in semi-wilderness.  Lars has chosen to have no further contact with his mother or Jon.  And incidentally, Trond though valuing Jon at one time as his best friend, doesn’t plan to reestablish a relationship with him.  He will be spending his remaining years hanging out with Lars, interspersed with visits and phone calls from his eldest daughter and probably the younger one as well.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

More on I Curse the River of Time

 
Petterson doesn't provide clarifying names in all cases, especially of the girls or women that Arvid is attracted to.  Also, he doesn't always provide the dates that things occur.  When he is young, there is a girl in a blue coat, her brother's, who is attracted to Arvid, comes to his house, goes to a cabin with him.  She is very young. At the end of section III, "Isn't it fun, she said and smiled.  I let the oars rest in the rowlocks.  The water around the boat fell silent, and silently the cabin was floating up above the rocks and smoke rose softly from the chimney, and how impossible it was to grasp that in the end something as fine as this could be ground into dust."

The next section sums up Arvid’s state during the final grinding into dust.  Arvid’s mother is close to death but she shuns Arvid to some extent as she has always done.  She thinks he is weak and has never properly matured, never properly grown up.  The view of the girl in the blue coat is different.  She thought him strong.  This girl believes him to be stronger and better balanced than he really is.  He is convinced by her, marries her, but doesn’t live up to her expectations.  Perhaps people who marry young imagining an idyllic future never, or almost never do.

Arvid loves his two daughters and they love him, but whatever trauma is involved in his separation from his “first” wife and from his daughters isn’t described.  The fact that he has more than one divorce is indication that he doesn’t learn enough from his failures.

Arvid does however remember the seemingly idyllic time with the very young girl who became his wife as something wonderful but he doesn’t understand how it became ground to dust.  He puzzles a bit but soon returns to his passion for and preoccupation with his mother.

Arvid's emotional dependence upon his mother is undoubtedly one cause of his marriage's deterioration, but his love of Communism is another.  The fall of the Berlin wall is for Arvid, a cause of great grief.   A committed Communist, not deterred by any of the evils of Stalinism, someone mourning the fall of the Berlin wall, might have been difficult for a less committed very young girl in a blue coat to tolerate.

In regard to this barely mentioned development, the very young girl with whom he recalls having a “fine thing” that inexplicably became ground to dust, I frankly passed it by and read on, but a few lines later thought to myself "wait a minute" and went back.  The girl in the blue coat must become Arvid's wife.

One learns, I suppose that one needs to pay close attention when reading Petterson The steps between the perfection of the time at the cabin and Arvid's wife divorcing him are not described, but the sudden contrast, something we are not prepared for is stunning.  Furthermore, we have in the course of the novel learned enough about Arvid to know he is the one who let it happen, who let the relationship deteriorate, who is the cause of this thing being ground to dust.



I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson




Per Petterson was recommended to me as being superior to Karl Ove Knausgaard.  I have purchased all six books of Knaus’s My Struggle, but have not been sure I am up to Knaus’s pessimism and so decided to turn to one of Petterson’s novels.  I selected his I Curse the River of Time because it was purported to take place during the Cold War and the the collapse of the Berlin war.  I knew a fair amount about that time and thought it would be much easier to read than anything by Knausgaard.  Alas, that was not to be the case.  

Knaus has been criticized for having written a memoir and called it a novel.  Petterson writes in the first person as though he were writing a memoir, but assures his readers and critics that this is merely the device he prefers and when he writes a novel that is what it is.

Also, Petterson in I Curse the River of Time skips back and forth between the time when he is 22, right before fall of the Berlin wall, and the time 15 years later when his mother, who has stomach cancer, is preparing to die.  

Arvid is not like his mother.  He thinks she is wonderful and compares her to Greta Garbo and Ingrid Bergman, but makes a point of saying that she would never have invited Humphrey Bogart (In Casablanca) to do her thinking for her.  In a brief description of her interacting with Arvid's father we see her as the dominant one in the family; although she isn't interested enough to guide her sons through life.

Arvid at one point chides her for always reading German novels, especially those of Gunter Grass.   She accuses him of being intellectually lazy, but he says it was a matter of principle because he hates the Nazis.  She becomes furious, points a trembling index finger at his nose and says, “what do you know about Germany and German History and what happened there. You Squirt.”

Petterson published his novel two years after Gunter Grass confessed that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS in World War II.  Was it a coincidence that Petterson has Arvid’s mother be a great admirer of Grass?  Probably not.

At the end of the novel, Arvid’s mother is standing alone in the sand in weather that is much too cold.  Arvid watches but doesn't consider going to her.  She doesn’t want him too.  After a long time she can stand no longer and sinks to her knees.  How does she want to die?  Not as her father or mother did.  Not as her uncle.  I imagine she will die bitterly, with perhaps a snarl on her face, something Arvid won’t see because he is afraid to approach her.

Earlier Arvid takes a dog to a vet to be put to death.  The vet tells Arvid he is sure he will want to see the dead dog so he can say goodbye to it.  Arvid complies, but afterwards hates that he went along with this expectation, and sits for a long time banging his steering wheel before driving off.  I assume he hates that he will be carrying the vision of the dead dog around with him for the foreseeable future.  If his mother dies there in the sand, and she will if he doesn't do something about her, he will then see her and  never afterward be able to see her as Greta Garbo or Ingrid Bergman.

(To be continued)

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Reading Norwegian novelists

 

https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/karl-ove-knausgaards-haunting-new-novel


The above is a review in The New Yorker  by Brandon Taylor of Knausgaard's The Morning Star

I was impressed with the review.  I especially noted that Taylor says that The Morning Star reminded of Bolano.  Several years ago I read quite a lot of Bolano and commented about the various novels at the time.  Taylor mentions The Savage Detective which I read.  He also mentions 2066 which I began but don't think I finished. 

I then recalled that I bought the first volume of Knausgaard's My Struggle which I just now picked up and see that I hadn't gotten very far into it.  The English language translation was published in 2012.  It would have been sometime after that I would have encountered a review, and of course Susan died on July 4th 2015; so whenever I got the novel we would have been in the throes of attempting to get her qualified for a liver transplant.  That was a hardship for her and in retrospect she probably thought it wasn't worth the trouble, and if it were left up to her she would have been content dying right away rather than being driven to the various facilities throughout the region, and having the various obligatory tests conduction so she could be closer to being eligible for a liver transplant.  At some point during this process I wanted her to live more than she did.

The "liver transplant process," it eventually developed, was a macabre joke.  She was eventually approved and we were invited to a meeting in which we learned that there weren't enough livers available for everyone in the room.  Those who would be chosen first were those who had liver cancer.  I recall one fellow rather smugly raising his hand to indicate that he had that cancer.  Then too, one needed to be healthy (except for the liver) enough to survive the operation and be able to live on for many years afterward.  Susan, we soon understood was never going to get a new liver.

Thus, I would have been in some part of the process with Susan when I read the beginning of Knausgaards macabre description of the death process in volume one of My Struggle.  He is only 52 now; so he would have been 40 when My Struggle was published in English.  Why would he find it so agreeable to concentrate so fully on the process of death?   When I was 40 I was dating Susan and had no interest in it whatsoever.  And this isn't a matter of self-deception.  At one time I read that pessimistic people were more likely to get cancer than optimistic ones -- William James "Sick Souls" as opposed to his "healthy souls" comes to mind.    Healthy-souled people simply don't dwell upon pessimistic matters to the extent that Knausgaard seems to.  I looked Knausgaard up in Wikipedia and saw how young he was and wondered if he would be able to generate enough optimism to finish his "struggle."  After reading the review of The Morning Star, this morning, I checked and found that Knausgaard had published his sixth and last volume of My Struggle" (The English edition) in September 2018; so perhaps enough time has passed for me to resume reading volume oneThe subtitle of Taylor's review of The Morning Star, states "In 'The Morning Star,' the Norwegian novelist gives voice to the feeling that something terrible is coming for us all."  Thus, Knausgaard seems not to have abandoned his pessimistic ways.  I would advise him, if I had the opportunity, that he should have himself checked regularly for signs of cancer. 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The proper metier

    Backing out of a driveway
    Full of prose and vituperation
    I caught my breath.
    Taking a last look,
    Putting it in drive,
    I looked ahead for    
    A proper turning.
    
    The air is dry,
    The world ripe
    For a proper burning.
    Off now beyond
    The roads, I put
    It in four-wheel
    Drive and slow

    Knowing what comes
    Next is full of ruts,
    Sand and stones.
    I’ll be overcome.
    No point in going
    Back when one is
    This close to annihilation.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Knausgaard's pessimism

 

https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/karl-ove-knausgaards-haunting-new-novel


The above is a review in The New Yorker  by Brandon Taylor of Knausgaard's The Morning Star.  I get hard-copies of The New Yorker, and I get emails as well, presumably in a few days I'll get the hard-copy containing this review.  Presumably also, you'll be able to read the above even if you don't subscribe, but I'm not sure about that.  Sometimes, in regard to such things, one must be a member and "sign in."  I didn't "sign in" to read the above, but sometimes if I don't sign out I remain signed-in until I have a computer malfunction.

In any case I was impressed with the review.  I especially noted that Taylor says that The Morning Star reminded of Bolano.  Several years ago I read quite a lot of Bolano and commented quite a lot about the various novels at the time.  Taylor mentions The Savage Detective which I read.  He also mentions 2066 which I began but don't think I finished. 

I then recalled that I bought the first volume of Knausgaard's My Struggle, an unfortunate title in my opinion.  But perhaps the title in Norwegian would would have a different connotation than it does in English, but perhaps that is the fault of the translator Don Bartlett and not that of Knausgaard. I don't know. 

I picked up my copy of My Struggle and see that I hadn't gotten very far into it.  The English language translation was published in 2012.  It would have been sometime after that I would have encountered a review, and of course Susan died on July 4th 2015; so whenever I got the novel we would have been in the throes of attempting to get her qualified for a liver transplant.  That was a hardship for her and in retrospect she probably thought it wasn't worth the trouble, and if it were left up to her she would have been content dying right away rather than be driven to the various facilities throughout the region having the various obligatory tests conduction so she could be closer to being eligible for a liver transplant.  At some point during this process I wanted her to live more than she did.

The "liver transplant process," it eventually developed, was a macabre joke on the part of the medical bureaucracy.  Eventually she had been approved and we were invited to a meeting in which we learned that there weren't enough livers available for everyone in the room.  Those who would be chosen first were those who had liver cancer.  I recall one fellow happily raising his hand to indicate that he had cancer.  Then too, one needed to be healthy (except for the liver) enough to survive the operation and be able to live on for many years afterward.  Susan, we soon understood was never going to get a new liver.

Thus, I would have been in some part of the process with Susan when I read the beginning of Knausgaards macabre description of the death process in volume one of My Struggle.  He is only 52 now; so he would have been 40 when My Struggle was published in English.  Why would he find it so agreeable to concentrate so fully on the process of death?   When I was 40 I was dating Susan and had on interest in it whatsoever.  And this isn't a matter of self-deception.  At one time I read that pessimistic people were more likely to get cancer than optimistic ones -- William James "Sick Souls" as opposed to his "healthy souls."    Healthy-souled people simply don't dwell upon pessimistic matters to the extent that Knausgaard seems to.  I looked Knausgaard up on Wikipedia at some point and saw how young he was and wondered if he would be able to generate enough optimism to finish his "struggle."  After reading the review of The Morning Star, this morning, I checked and found that Knausgaard had published his sixth and last volume of My Struggle" (The English edition) in September 2018; so perhaps enough time has passed for me to resume reading volume 1The subtitle of Taylor's review of The Morning Star, states "In 'The Morning Star,' the Norwegian novelist gives voice to the feeling that something terrible is coming for us all."  Thus, Knausgaard seems not to have abandoned his pessimistic ways.  I would advise him, if I had the opportunity, that he should have himself checked regularly for signs of cancer. 

Lawrence


Friday, October 1, 2021

Forgetting to breathe



    Drowning southwest
    Of the island, I reached out,
    Fingers spread, treading.
    I hoped to avoid
    Such ventures, my
    Sense of direction flawed
    By a mother restricting me
    
    To the block we lived upon;
    So I sailed toward the
    Oil derrick southwest
    Of our house within
    That block and sight
    Of land, but remote
    From then, I entered
    
    Senescent storms I couldn’t
    Make sense of, fingers
    Reaching out of the sea
    I swam in.  They will say on
    The day my body washes ashore,
    “He lived Ninety years,
    “A race he successfully won”.

A Matter of time



    A siren dimmed in the distance
    And she was gone.  I was
    Sure of her duration, her
    Resolution, her being without
    End, and time supported
    My insistence.  Our walks
    In the sand were always sure.
    
    A star fell.  I didn’t need to
    Wish.  It was all there back then
    And I strove to keep it,
    Spending without restraint.
    Now none remains.  My
    Recollections shatter.  She
    Stopped being present in

    My dreams.  I carried a list
    With instructions for times
    Like these.  She was supposed
    Pick me up when our
    Tasks were complete.
    I limped to the door to see
    Her drive away without me.

Legal Lessons

  
   “Look into this,” I mumbled
    To myself, “six years – may
    Get out in two” looking
    At the street lamps struggling
    Through the fog, “so much
    Fog.”  I had been, years
    Before, a grunt on a hill top

    With a number, “everything
    Counted: years of service,
    Years of incarceration
    Unless I get a ‘not-guilty.’
    Doubtful.  I was at the
    Wheel despite taking
    That stuff from V.A.”

    “What was that stuff anyway?”
    I mumbled, thumbing
    Through the paperwork –
    “Have to get that from
    The prosecution: gave
    That stuff out.  Didn’t tell
    Me I couldn’t drive.”

    “I held out eight days
    Up there.  Where was
    Prosecution then?  Where
    Were those who sent
    Me there, and brought me
    Back to serve six years,
    Two with good behavior?”