Per Petterson, the Writer’s Writer
I’ve gone bonkers over Per Petterson’s writing. Born in Norway in 1952, Petterson was a librarian and a bookseller before he published his first work in 1987, a volume of short stories. His third novel, Out Stealing Horses, became an international best seller. Since then, he has published three other novels, which have established his reputation as one of Norway’s best fiction writers.
I’ve now read all of his books, and, as a writer, I’ve learned a great deal from him about technique, especially point of view and his use of time. I Refuse, Pettersen’s most recent novel, captures the main characters’ lifetime in a compressed space.
September 2006 reunites Tommy and Jim, devoted friends in their youth, after they’ve been separated for 35 years. Fragments from their earlier time together, threaded together by a master weaver, are woven into the 2006 “present” narrative, the books anchor. Petterson slips effortlessly backward and forward in time, adding layers to these characters’ lives, even though his language often is as spare as the Norwegian landscape. He also doesn’t feel enslaved by first or third person point of view but enters each as easily as he moves in time.
While I Refuse evokes Tommy and Jim’s inner and outer lives, limning not only how different these men are but also how their pasts made it inevitable that they would meet again under vastly different circumstances, it also captures their dysfunctional childhood. The present dilemma each man faces seems an inevitable outcome of those early years and their particular destiny. It’s as if they were goldfish is placed in too small of a fishbowl and therefore can only grow within that circumference. Their past determines their present.
Petterson’s spare but poetic prose never fails to draw me in. His ability to gracefully evoke character and setting is so accomplished that, without realizing it, I enter the world he creates and feel I have always lived there.
Lily Iona MacKenzie
A Canadian by birth, a high school dropout, and a mother at 17, in my early years, I supported myself as a stock girl in the Hudson’s Bay Company, as a long-distance operator for the former Alberta Government Telephones, and as a secretary (Bechtel Corp sponsored me into the States). I also was a cocktail waitress at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, briefly broke into the male-dominated world of the docks as a longshoreman (I was the first woman to work on the SF docks and almost got my legs broken), founded and managed a homeless shelter in Marin County, co-created The Story Shoppe, a weekly radio program for children that aired on KTIM in Marin County, CA, and eventually earned two Master’s degrees (one in creative writing and one in the humanities). I have published reviews, interviews, short fiction, poetry, travel pieces, essays, and memoir in over 165 American and Canadian venues. My novel Fling! was published in 2015. Curva Peligrosa, another novel, was published in September 2017. Freefall: A Divine Comedy was released in 2019. My poetry collection All This was published in 2011, and Prolific Press published my poetry chapbook No More Kings in March 2020. I blog at http://lilyionamackenzie.com.
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