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Something New Under the Sun

When I was in Denmark in October, a friend there recommended this novel:  Out Stealing Horses  by Per Petterson.  The story is a beautiful weaving of present and past, of sixty-seven-year-old Trond Sander and his fifteenth summer when he went out stealing horses with his friend, Jon, and all that happened afterward.  The voice in this novel makes me want to follow it forever.  It is somewhat reminiscent of Raymond Carver, as well as Ernest Hemingway, combined with the unique quality of Petterson's lyrical style.  I love Carver and Hemingway's work, so this is a feast, every sentence.

All writers influence each other.  There is, as James Joyce said through his character Leopold Bloom in Ulysses, "nothing new under the sun."  Also said in the Bible.

I'm inspired by the structure of Petterson's work, the seamless movement back and forth between the different decades of Trond's life.  The novel is 238 pages, and I'm on page 59; this thrills me. I have more hours to spend in Petterson's voice.

For me, writing is all about the voice. Many poets come to mind right now, the voices I can't get enough of.  Sometimes I go on the website Poetry Daily and read through ten or more poems in the archive.  A certain voice will stop me, and I'll read that poem over and over.  It's magic, a current flowing from that author to me, the reader, and it feels special, a secret, a delight, even if the theme or situation is tragic.  This is the alchemy of voice, this is the order out of chaos that writers bring to the world through their art.

Here is a passage from Out Stealing Horses.  Maybe you will like the voice, too.  From fifteen-year-old Trond's POV:

The sun was shining.  I sat on the stern thwart with my eyes closed against the light and my father's familiar face as he rowed with easy strokes, and I thought about how it must feel to lose your life so early.  Lose your life, as if you held an egg in your hand, and then dropped it, and it fell to the ground and broke, and I knew it could not feel like anything at all.  If you were dead, you were dead, but in the fraction of a second, just before; whether you realized then it was the end, and what that felt like. There was a narrow opening there, like a door barely ajar, that I pushed towards, because I wanted to get in, and there was a golden light in that crack that came from the sunlight on my eyelids, and then suddenly I slipped inside, and I was certainly there for a little flash, and it did not frighten me at all, just made me sad and astonished at how quiet everything was. When I opened my eyes, the feeling stayed with me. I looked across the water towards the far bank, and it was still there. I looked at my father's face as if from a place far off, and I blinked several times and drew a deep breath, and perhaps I trembled a little, for he smiled enquiringly and said:

"How goes it with you, Chief?"

"I am alright," I said, after a pause.  But when we came alongside the bank and tied the boat up and walked along the fence over the meadow, I felt it somewhere inside me; a small remnant, a bright yellow speck that perhaps would never leave me.


6 Comment count
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I'll put this on my request list...

although God knows, I need another book to read like a hole in the head.

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Hey Jennifer

How many holes in the head do you have? I love that phrase.  "Like a hole in the head."  It's a simile that still fetches a grin.

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Golden Behind the Eyelid

If a writer chooses only to write for other writers or the canon then, yeah, maybe Joyce is right. But then what would be the point, beyond polish and vanity?

Every day, every utterance is fresh. Lives alter. History expires and reincarnates. It's all new to the reader, when both voice and ear are paying attention.

Last May, I watched with awe as Obama addressed the Crow and Northern Cheyenne nations - the first candidate for U.S. President ever to campaign on a reservation. He stood on a small grassy hill in the middle of the veterans park on the edge of the pow-wow grounds. He was surrounded. By stoic but attentive natives. By school children and fancy dancers wearing colorful traditional dress and holding signs. By stretched summer light and Montana blue sky. He spoke crisply through the finest P.A. system that passion and hot prospects can afford. Each consonant delivered with perfect diction.

Then, near the end of his address, he told a story. We all leaned in a little closer. Arms uncrossed. Heads tilted. He spoke of being different, of growing up visibly multi-racial, of feeling at home on the inside but living it on the outside by virtue of skin color. He connected like fusion. In that moment, Obama became Petterson's sunlight and planted Bright Yellow Specks behind the eyelids of 5,000 First Americans and welcomed them home. Again. 

Nicely done, Susan.

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Well, Hello There

Joe.  Behind my eyes, I still see you in the Surprise Valley sunlight with your arms stretched wide and acres of blue sky above you.

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Standing in the Light

And there you are, waiting at night in the parking lot of the N. Berkeley BART station, lit up by sodium vapor and thoughts of ambush, a fizzing mouthful of Orchard Peach tickled with intention.

I'm just passing by and blowing a kiss...

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There you go,

and the leaves shiver in hickory wind.