There are many novels we enjoy because they are fast reads or present mysteries to solve. In those books, we get caught up in the story arc and we can’t wait to see how they turn out. But there are also novels that I as a librarian like to call the quiet reads, the ones that have passages to savor and ideas to wrestle with long after you finish the last page. They are the ones that some of our patrons tell me are reads that “stay with you.”
Out Stealing Horses is one of those titles. Since finishing it a couple of days ago after a second read, I am still thinking about Norwegian author Per Petterson’s moving tale of Trond Sander. The 67-year-old looks back on his life after moving to a remote cabin near Norway’s southeastern border with Sweden following the death of his wife and sister. As he confronts a purposefully stripped-down life with his dog Lyra, his encounter with a neighbor from his past triggers memories of a pivotal summer he spent with his father.
As he recalls the summer of 1948, he struggles with trying to understand a father whom he loved, but nonetheless no longer saw after his father walked out on the family at summer's end when Trond was 15. In order not to spoil the book’s ending, suffice it to say that by the time you finish reading, you have a clearer picture of his father’s actions and motivations. Yet, there is still enough mystery in the father-son relationship to make it all too human. How well can we truly understand the others around us, particularly family members? And how can we truly understand the love between men and women, particularly during a time when we are teens on the brink of adulthood ourselves?
There is much to think about in a novel that is not easy to characterize as we see how Trond’s neighbor Lars triggers complicated memories. In fact, both Trond and his father loved Lars’ mother that summer. It was Lars’ brother Jon who first befriended Trond and invited him to go out "stealing" horses, and it was Jon who contributed to a family accident that led to the death of Lars’ twin brother. Lars’ status with his family is ultimately revealed, and Trond gets a visit from one of his grown daughters in an encounter that raises even more questions and fascinations for the reader.
It also must be noted that while a reader’s response to a novel’s writing style is personal, one cannot help but be moved by Petterson’s ability not only to make the characters come alive, but the landscape as well. He beautifully renders the night sky, the play of sunlight, and the life of the river and forest Trond and his father explore as they harvest timber.
As a librarian, I love to hear from readers about titles that “stay with you.” Other novels that fit that bill include:
- Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
- Plainsong by Kent Haruf
- The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
- Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright
- Atonement by Ian McEwan
- Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi
- Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Please share your choices in the Comments section below.