Sixty seven year old Trond has purchased an isolated, spare cabin in the Norwegian woods, planning to live the remainder of his life in solitude with his rescued dog, Lyra. As Trond fixes up his cabin and gets ready for the oncoming winter, his mind drifts back to the summer of his fifteenth year when he and his father, who he hasn’t seen in 50 years, were in a similar cabin for the summer. His closest neighbor is Lars who, he realizes soon after meeting, he knew during that summer.
This particular summer is pivotal for Trond, as he sees his father, his hero, as both a man of extreme stature as well as a man somewhat diminished. It is a summer filled with joys. It is around this time that he feels he has a singular bond with his father, one that his sister who remained at home for the summer in Oslo with their mother, cannot replicate. It is during this summer that he gets a glimpse of his father’s war-time Resistance activities as told to him by a neighbor, something his father would never talk about.
There is also tragedy during the summer as a young boy, his friend Jon’s younger brother, is accidently killed in a rifle accident and Trond sees his father with another woman. That summer is the last time Trond would see his father. He never came home.
The spectacular thing about Out Stealing Horses is its subtlety. Readers can visualize Trond in his winter wonderland, trudging through the snow with Lyra or cutting up a fallen birch tree with Lars. They can visualize fifteen year old Trond working with his father felling trees on his property, looking longingly at Jon’s mother as she brings food to the logging men. You can picture the river curving around the bend, flowing from Norway to Sweden back into Norway. All of this is done without blatant similes. It is done with wordsmithing and language and slow but steady writing that draws readers in. The book is also spectacular for what it doesn’t say–about Trond’s father, about Trond’s cabin, about Lars. There are hints, but the reader must ultimately decide for himself.
Out Stealing Horses (the title does have a meaning in the story, but I won’t tell you) won the 2007 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award as well as several other awards. Susan, who reads much more literary works than I do, suggested this book at the Brooklyn Book Festival and I’m glad because it is not “my genre” but it is so worth reading.