The poor farm boy fired by dreams of self-improvement isn't a character one often encounters nowadays. Here, in a story set early in this century, Thorvarthur dreams of leaving his family's subsistence farm in northern Iceland to become a famous poet. His is a distinctly old-fashioned combination of overweening ambition and energetic idealism--he takes a job milking cows, which he loathes, in order to have the opportunity to learn to swim; he studies philology in his spare time while his father rants about wasted kerosene and the hired hands tease him; he feels little affection for his family but idolizes his employers' violet-eyed Norwegian houseguest. The narration is awkwardly formal at times and the conclusion is oddly truncated (there seems to be a chapter or two missing between Thorvarthur's dreary job as a dairyman and his final, unsuccessful attempt to sell his own, self-published book as an itinerant peddler). No doubt some readers will dismiss Thorvarthur as a prig, but his hatred of work--and his colossal disillusionment with the reality of making one's own living--will win the sympathies of those who aren't put off by his stand-offish manner. In retrospect, his problem seems more relevant than those of many more consciously contemporary, with-it heroes. Give him an outsider's chance.