Saturday, March 28, 2009

Out Stealing Horses

Thank you for allowing me to join you! Although I’ve never participated in a group blog or blog book group before, I follow the Avid Reader blog and was excited to see that a new virtual book club was forming – it took me a while to find you! Back when AOL was just getting started in the early 90s I participated in the first online book group there. It was a huge (like maybe 50 members) and busy group and some of the members read and posted about a book every week. Complicated democratic nominating and voting sessions were held every month for the following month’s books and there were splinter groups for different genres. We were “together” for about 5 years, but then people started having crazy fights and we ended up going our separate ways.

I miss the online format, but I have a few offline groups that I participate in – a fiction, nonfiction and mother/daughter book club -- but I realize I may have to drop at least one of these because I always seem to need more time and flexibility. I love the online format for this and the way it lets you think through and write down impressions. Looking forward to participating and getting to know everyone here!

I enjoyed Out Stealing Horses tremendously. One reason I was attracted to it was because one of the reviews compared it to Haldor Laxness whose book Independent People is one of my favorites. I realize I enjoy reading books about solitude -- maybe because I’m craving it in my life right now. We see Trond adjusting to his new life -- cooking for one, deciding when to build a fire, his companionship with Lyra, nervousness about the snow shoveling and any disruption in routine. These were some of my favorite parts of the book. They felt comforting to me somehow. I read the review that Barbara posted and remember thinking that the book would make a good movie (starring Max Von Sydow as the older Trond! ) but it didn’t feel contrived to me like the reviewer implied. At the end of the review the reviewer said that the book was bound to fall short of American expectation of “showdowns and knockouts.” I got to thinking about that and wondered if the quiet way the book ended was un-American…

Barbara, I was interested in your comments about the flatness of the emotion. I also have to disagree – but I found that often the physical effects of an emotion were sometimes described more vividly than the feeling itself (Jon’s violent crushing of the bird egg, the possible emotions at play that may have contributed to the accident where Jon’s father was injured) But I did feel there were things omitted that would have filled out the picture of Trond just a little bit – there was no discussion of his later life, wives or family life before he decided to become a hermit. Even a paragraph or two would have been enough. Thanks so much for posting those photos. They really helped define what I envisioned- we’re lucky to have your background and perspective!

Cinnamon, I love the fallen tree metaphor that you discovered. How it is pinning shut the door to his toolshed! How appropriate that Lars, who must be dealing with his own conflicting feelings about the coincidental reunion, is helping him pry it open. Speaking of metaphors, I thought the suit that his mother bought for him was a good metaphor for his new role as “man” of the family, his maturation and coming of age.

I have to say that the book did bring up some painful memories for me. I was at a similar age as Trond when I discovered that my father was having an affair (before my mother did). I could relate to Trond’s grief over the realization that his family life would never be the same, that his father wasn’t the shining example of loyalty and manhood that he had held him up to be, that his mother was heartbroken. The difficulty of realizing that his father was a person who deserved love and happiness yet not quite being able to forgive him for what he did to get it. All of these were things that my family went through – I imagine many people with broken families have these struggles. I feel very lucky that my father made an effort to maintain our relationship even though the one with my mother had ended.


  1. JGH - how lovely to have you here- and one who is experienced in online book groups! The AOL group does sound complicated- but maybe you will have some suggestions as to how we take this group forward. This is experimental, and our first book as you know.

    I was interested that your favourite parts were about Trond adjusting to life on his own. I had not really thought too much about these times, apart from his closeness to Lyra. It did strike me that he had more of a connection with Lyra than maybe with other humans.

    I did not miss having more detail about the 'inbetween years'- I thought enough was implied. I shall have to read the book again as I feel there was so many details I skipped over.

    I agree with you about the way emotions were expressed- not overtly but in other manifestations. The storm was a metaphor for the turmoil in Trond's mind as his memories took hold, for example. The incident with the bird's nest and Jon with his 'coal black eyes' made me sit up and take notice- you knew straight away that something terrible must have happened to make him do that. Thanks for reminding me about this.

    And the suit! yes that is a good metaphor! I think it is testimony to Pettersons writing that these metaphors are subtle (I think so anyway!)

    You are right- many people with broken families go throught these struggles. Thank you for sharing your personal emotional response. I thought Petterson showed how the effects can be lasting- even into the next generation. But even young people whose families are not broken come to a realisation one way or another that their infallible, adored parent is in fact fallible and imperfect.

    I felt very sad for Trond's mother and the way she never really recovered.

    Thank you JGH for this insightful post- I really enjoyed reading it, and will look out for Haldor Laxness now.

  2. Welcome, JGH! so thoughtful; my father also had a very long secretive affair with calamitous and far-reaching results, though not until I was an adult.

  3. Welcome to our fledgling book club! Hopefully your considerable experience will help us avoid some of the problems you encountered previously.

    I too felt sorry for Trond's mother, and actually for a lot of people in the story, most of whom didn't do anything intentionally to hurt anyone else.

    I'd be interested if anyone has any insight or even speculation about the real origin of "out stealing horses."

    By the end of the book, the one thing I wanted to know more about was the relationship of Lars and Trond. They were almost like brothers reunited and they so needed to share their stories with each other.

    JGH -- It was so great to have you show up as a surprise new member. I love to be reminded of things by someone else!