I am a glass-half-empty kind of girl, and one that my friend Monique says has a bit of melancholia about her, so it makes sense that I would gravitate towards a book like Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses, which is depressing as all get out. Don’t get me wrong, because the writing is spare and lovely and simple, but the story will break your heart. More than that — it’ll shatter it.
Three years after his wife dies in the car crash that he himself barely survives, sixty-seven-year-old Trond moves to an isolated, rustic cabin on the frosty Norwegian-Swedish border. There he lives as quietly as possible with just his dog for company, until he meets his only neighbor. Already an introspective and contemplative man, this meeting causes Trond to think back to the summer of 1948, when he was a boy of fifteen. What he didn’t realize then and does now is that what he experienced that summer shaped the next fifty-two years of his life; how Petterson twists Trond’s recollections — as varied as children getting shot, bridges getting blown up, and the horses of the title getting stolen — amongst his present-day observations is so beautifully fluid that it doesn’t even cross my mind to be bothered that the book’s plot has no climax.
Yes, you read that correctly. There’s no climax, and it’s okay. It might even be the point. So many, fictional or otherwise, live their lives waiting for something to happen, and spend that anticipatory time studying what has transpired thus far. Petterson’s Trond is no different, though in his case what he is waiting for is a placid death. It’s sad, yes, but Trond isn’t. He ruminates, and in the end, he accepts it all — what has made him who he is, what inevitably is going to eventually come — and if that peaceful recognition doesn’t crack your heart into a million bloody pieces, then maybe you don’t deserve to have one in the first place.