The second installment in Tiller’s penetrating three-part novel about the varied perceptions others have of us, emphasizing the gaps in Norway’s class ladder.
This volume of Tiller’s trilogy (Encircling, 2017) follows the format of the first: three people respond to a letter that a man named David has placed in the paper asking for details about his life—he's had an accident-induced bout of amnesia—while relating details of their own lives. We hear from Ole, a childhood friend who is flailing at his efforts to manage his drug-dealing teenage stepson; Tom Roger, a friend from David's teen years with a history of criminality and domestic abuse; and Paula, a friend of David’s mother who has a few clues about the novel’s central question of the identity of David’s father. Of the three narrators, Tom Roger is at once the most gripping and troubling: his section is thick with scenes of him battering his current girlfriend and ex-wife as well as memories of David’s own dark history. (He poisoned a dog as an act of revenge, for instance, and his grandfather was an infamous bootlegger.) It’s also the most revealing about the distinctions between Tom Roger’s lower-class station (“a family of drunks, benefit scroungers and petty criminals”) and the higher rungs; he’s tense about the “ice-smile” judgment of his girlfriend’s well-off mother and rants to David about how the airbrushed MTV version of the 1980s hardly resembled the hardscrabble one he lived through. There are difficult scenes throughout (a raped and murdered child, sexual molestation, and allegations of incest), though the narrators in this volume tend to be more long-winded, which blunts the impact of their revelations. Still, this volume stands alone well and has a twist climax that sets up more questions about David for the third book while also making this one satisfying in itself.
A canny exploration of how much we reveal about ourselves when we talk about others.