An aging loner remembers a childhood summer that marked a lifetime of loss.
Fifteen-year-old Trond, spending the summer of 1948 with his father, away from their Oslo home in a cabin in the easternmost region of Norway, wakes to an invitation from his friend, Jon, to “steal” their neighbor’s horses for an early-morning joy ride. But what Trond doesn’t yet know is that the ride is Jon’s farewell to him. The day before, when Jon was supposed to be minding his young twin brothers, Lars and Odd, Lars found Jon’s prized gun and, imitating his older brother, accidentally killed his twin. Nearly 60 years later, Trond has returned to the rustic region after a devastating car accident that killed his wife and left him gravely injured, hoping to live out the rest of his days quietly, with his dog as his only companion. But late one night, he has a chance encounter with his only neighbor, an aging man named Lars. Trond realizes that this neighbor is his childhood friend’s younger brother, and their meeting causes him to remember not only the morning of the horse theft, but the rest of the summer as well. After Jon’s disappearance, Trond spends the summer working with his father to send lumber down the river to the Swedish border, ostensibly the reason for their retreat. He is stunned to learn that his father is having an affair with Jon’s grieving mother, also the object of Trond’s own first intimate moment. As Trond begins to talk to the other workers, he also realizes that his father has had complicated reasons for spending much of the war years in the eastern region of the country, close to Sweden’s neutral borders. He even learns that the phrase “out stealing horses,” which he had tossed around casually with his friend, has a meaning that reaches beyond their childhood pranks.
Haunting, minimalist prose and expert pacing give this quiet story from Norway native Petterson (In the Wake, 2006, etc.) an undeniably authoritative presence.