Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Further on Per Petterson's Men in My Situation

Petterson offers this hint about the men in his situation on page 10: “I could see them all in my mind’s eye, their cars parked in places like this along roads and streets, by bus stops, in garages and driveways, with men in my situation, half lying half sitting in their seats with their coats and cars pulled tight around them, trying to doze off for a few hours alone and finally being gathered up in the dark of night by soft hands and soundless winches, hauled together in long rows, one after the other, bumper to bumper, button to button, headlight to tail light, in a fellowship ranked by the man’s age and the brand of the car, as if waiting for the last rites, for oblivion, sleeping in a fetal position, their unshaven cheeks against the cold backs of their hands, barely breathing in the cold darkness.”

Comment: It seems strange that so many Norwegian men find it appropriate or even possible to spend so much time sleeping in their cars, imagining as I do that it is often very cold in Norway unlike here in California where I don’t recall ever sleeping in my car in that fashion.  Arvid had perfectly good places to sleep in his apartment, but for a while after Turid left him, he wasn’t comfortable enough to sleep unless he went outside and got in his 1979 Mazda.  

One of the reasons for Arvid’s breakup with Turid is described on page 20: “I had always traveled downtown with Turid to meet other young adults we knew, communists and poets, trade unionists, welders and lathe operators from . . . but then it slowly ebbed out.  Turid turned and found new friends who did not become my friends.”  

Comment: Although later on Turid after some emotional disaster that isn’t explained with her friends calls Arvid to come out to a bus station and pick her up, which he does.  She tells him that he is the only person she has, but by this time she no longer has him.  He shocks her by telling her to keep her life away from him.

He clearly blames her for the break. She ebbed away from the intellectual friends Arvid wanted to be close to and finds “colorful friends” she finds friends more suited to her.  They disappoint her in some unexplained way and she is ready to come back to Arvid.  Apparently, even though she moved out and divorced him, she believed she could always get him back if need be.  But she waited far to long for that. By then it was far too late.  Even if they were both soon to be, more or less, without friends, he no longer wanted her back.

After his separation from Turid, Arvid sought a time of one night stands but they didn’t begin well.  The first woman he went with seemed intellectually suitable.  She loved Mahler before Arvid knew him, but she was more experienced in the way of one night stands than he was and he took offense at her.  “Right before I closed the door behind us going into the flat she lived in, it felt imperative to look back to where I’d come from, which for the most part now lay in ruins . . . I turned into a pillar of salt.”

Comment: While I didn’t have any one night stands after breaking up with my first wife, I did go out with a few women, mostly from work.  I was looking for someone I could be serious about and so did not turn into a pillar of salt.  Arvid though was more resolute.  It didn’t work out for him with the Mahler lady, but it did with subsequent ladies.  Nevertheless he wasn’t comfortable with that life style even though he sought mood help from what he deemed appropriate novels, John Berger’s G, and a book about Casanova’s exploits are mentioned.  

A step up from one night stands was to obtain a “mistress.” While visiting his parents’ graves he noticed a woman standing alone by a recently dug grave.  He imagined she was the mistress of the recently deceased who waited until the legitimate family left before paying her respects.  “The mistress had stopped on the footpath.  When our eyes met, she didn’t drop her gaze, and so it was I who had to yield, as usual.  I looked a the stone again.  What little I was trying to hold together, fell apart.  I took the satchel, and then got up. . . She could have been my mistress. I thought.  But I didn’t want a mistress.  Or maybe I did, but it was too complicated, it was too late, my heart is not in it . . .”  The do keep looking at each other and so strike up a conversation, but Arvid seems more interested in finding out if his guess about her was correct than getting together with her himself.  

Comment: One of the Amazon reviewers wrote that while the story of Arvid was sad, at least he had his daughter Vigdis by the end of the novel.  That reviewer was addressing the matter of Arvid’s sadness, but it isn’t a satisfactory conclusion to the novel if that is all one has, an end to sadness because Arvid has the prospect of the renewed good relationship with his daughter.  Yes, that is a good thing for him to have, but he also needs a relationship to replace the one he had with Turid.  One-night-stands won’t do it, neither will the acquisition of a mistress.  

At this point, I’m reminded of Allie Sherlock’s relationship with her father.  Her mother died when Allie was I  nine, and when Allie was eleven she told her father, Mark, she wanted to busk.  Mark was indulgent, learned how to support her with camera gear, setting up a Youtube channel, protecting her while she sang, driving her the two and half hour distance between Cork and Dublin.   Allie  was Vigdis’s age when Petterson wrote the ending to Men in my situation.  I don’t have any special knowledge about Allie and her father beyond watching Youtube videos of her singing from time to time, but their relationship seems very good.  Also, it seemed that Mark was very friendly with some ladies closer to his own age.  Then too Mark seems much better balanced than Arvid and not at all given to panic.  Also Allie seems better balanced that Vigdis.  When Allie began singing at age eleven she seemed vulnerable and diffident, but by the time she was sixteen she was confident and in charge of her surroundings.  Vigdis at sixteen is far behind Allie at that age and may never equal her, but Petterson is encouraging us to believe, I assume, that Vigdis, will soon turn into a mostly normal girl through her continued relationship with her father.

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