When most reviewers speak about Per Petterson’s novel Out Stealing Horses, one word that consistently comes to mind is quiet. Petterson’s writing is quiet and thoughtful and even a little sly. Critics describe the tendency of this novel to sneak up on readers and capture them without their being aware of it. Another quiet element of Out Steeling Horses is the story’s setting, which is colored by the beauty of Norway’s forested backcountry. Even the storyline of Out Stealing Horses is somewhat shrouded in silence. But through Petterson’s skillful writing, much is said without the need for a lot of words.
The major part of the story revolves around a father and son who spend one summer together, in 1948, in a small cabin away from most of the rest of the world. The young boy and narrator of this novel, Trond Sander, is fifteen in 1948, but he is a sixty-year-old looking back on that special summer in other parts of the novel. It was during that 1948 summer that Trond was transformed from a boy to a man. Between the two versions of the narrator, a son’s love for his father, which is duly returned, is made quietly apparent.
The book is not all silence, though. There are memories of World War II and the German occupation of Norway. There is the accidental killing of a neighbor’s son. Although the relationship between Trond’s mother and father is only hinted at, there is also the betrayal and abandonment of Trond’s patient mother as his father leaves the family for long, unexplained periods of time. When Trond, narrating from his adult persona, loses his wife in a car accident, Trond’s withdraws from the rest of his family and hides away, much as his father had done. In an effort to claim a life of peace and tranquility, he tells no one where he is. It is a feat Trond discovers to be impossible.
Out Stealing Horses begins with Trond Sander, an older man living a solitary existence in the woods. In earlier life, Tron had lived in the city and made enough money to retire, but this is the life he has chosen.
He has been married twice, once divorced and once widowed, and for some unexplained reason, he has cut off his contacts with his children and grandchildren. Trond is seeking privacy and solitude and thought he had arrived at his goal. But then one night, he bumps into a distant neighbor and realizes that he knows the man. This man is Lars Haug.
The last time Trond has seen the man was when Lars was only ten years old, shortly after Lars had accidentally shot his twin brother, Odd, in the face. The appearance of Lars arouses Trond’s memories, and he begins a long narration, which encompasses most of the story, about a remarkable summer in 1948, which he spent with his father in a similar location and setting.
The gist of this novel involves the coming-of-age story of fifteen-year-old Trond. Previous to that 1948 summer, Trond and his father had not spent much time together. Trond’s father was prone to long absences from the family, which included Trond’s mother and his sister, who lived in Oslo, Norway. Unknown to Trond at the time, during World War II his father was involved in an underground resistance group following the occupation of Norway by Germany. Trond’s father led a double life, keeping his family in the city and establishing an existence in the outlying areas of Norway close to the Swedish border. He had a cabin there, from which he maintained a normal life, at least to outside appearances, but it was from there that he also smuggled documents out of the country.
In 1948, after the Germans are defeated, Trond’s father takes his son to that cabin for the summer, just the two of them. It is here, for the first time in his life, that Trond becomes truly acquainted with is father. Through his experiences, Trond realizes how much he loves his father as well as how much his father loves him.
Trond also learns other lessons, most taught to him by an older friend, Jon Haug (Lars Haug’s older brother). Jon ignores Trond’s father but pays special attention to Trond. He teaches Trond about nature and helps him to appreciate life in the woods. Jon encourages Trond to take risks. It is also Jon who takes Trond out one morning to steal horses.
(The entire section is 962 words.)