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It's Fine by Me

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Overview

The moving story of a young man's life from an international literary master.

On his first day of school, a teacher welcomes Audun to the class by asking him to describe his former life in the country. But there are stories about his family he would prefer to keep to himself, such as the weeks he spent living in a couple of cardboard boxes, and the day of his little brother's birth, when his drunken father fired three shots into the ceiling. So...

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It's Fine By Me: A Novel

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Overview

The moving story of a young man's life from an international literary master.

On his first day of school, a teacher welcomes Audun to the class by asking him to describe his former life in the country. But there are stories about his family he would prefer to keep to himself, such as the weeks he spent living in a couple of cardboard boxes, and the day of his little brother's birth, when his drunken father fired three shots into the ceiling. So he refuses to talk and refuses to take off his sunglasses.

In his late teens Audun is the only one of his family who remains with his mother in their home in a working-class district of Oslo. He delivers newspapers when he is not in school and talks for hours about Jack London and Ernest Hemingway with his best friend Arvid. But he's not sure that school is the right path for him, feeling that life holds other possibilities.

Sometimes tender, sometimes brutal, It's Fine by Me is a brilliant novel from the acclaimed author of Out Stealing Horses.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A sensible, brittle, and razor sharp description of a boy's universe."
—The Times

"Petterson is a great stylist and portrays his characters with an unsentimental tenderness and understanding which can make anything beautiful."
—Borsen (Denmark)

"You have to find your own way after reading through this book. The text gnaws you, pushes you forward. Great literature does that."
—VG Magazine

Kirkus Reviews
Coming-of-age in 1960s Norway; the fifth novel from the Norwegian native, best known for Out Stealing Horses (2007). It's his first day at a new school in Oslo. He's late. He's wearing sunglasses. He refuses the headmaster's order to remove them. He won't tell his fellow students where he's from. The message is clear: Don't bother me. This is Audun Sletten, the 13-year-old narrator, in 1965. Why the hard shell, the truculence? His father is an abusive alcoholic. When he fired a gun through the kitchen window, it was the last straw for his mother, who moved them out. We do return to 1965, but most of the action takes place in 1970. Audun is now a high school senior; he has an early-morning paper route and is always tired in school. He is proud of his working-class identity. He is deeply influenced by American culture, loves Jimi Hendrix and Jack London, but is adamant the Americans leave Vietnam. Fiercely self-reliant, he stays clear of organizations after having been expelled from the Boy Scouts. We have met Audun before, in different settings; he's the alienated young Westerner, and Petterson hasn't done enough to individuate him. He's always fighting; he drops out of school to work at a printing press, but gets into fights while still a trainee. One respite from the violence came in 1965, when Audun was sheltered by a farmer and his wife; in the novel's best scenes, the boy luxuriates in the idyllic calm and the wife's maternal attention. We could have used more such contrasts with the monotonous flurry of fists and at least the suggestion of a romantic life. As it is, it's his undercharacterized mother who finds a new partner, in a crowded ending that includes the discovery of a dead body. Will Audun ever break free of his father's legacy? Petterson leaves that key question hanging and the reader unsatisfied.
The Barnes & Noble Review

Scandinavians must be sick and tired of everyone else in the world commenting on the darkness of their literature, the melancholy, the angst, the loneliness, the blah blah blah.

Per Petterson's books are eerie, it's true; a voice echoing across a ravine. But his characters are no more alienated than those in American or British literature. We think we hear the ringing sound of cold air; we think we feel the stab of arctic wind in our lungs; but it's modern life, here, there, and everywhere that grabs us by the throat. And while Out Stealing Horses — written in 2003, published in English in 2005 — has been Petterson's most widely read and decorated novel (he has called it a "freak accident"), they are all unforgettable.

Audun Sletten is thirteen in 1965, when Petterson's It's Fine By Me opens. He is working class and proud of it: the son of a quiet, opera-loving mother and a brute of an alcoholic father, who, thank god, has gone to live and drink himself to death in the woods. His sister Kari is four years older and has fallen in with a charmer whom Audun nicknames James Dean, or "JD." Nicknames are classic Petterson — he sneaks a reader into his world with codes, references, nicknames, until we share Audun's likes and dislikes — his outrage and his claustrophobia:

I am tired, I still have homework to do and a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach tells me something at school is not going the right way. What I do, I do well enough. What I hear, I remember and understand, I am not an idiot, but it's as if the rest of my class has taken off on some journey they forgot to tell me about, as if there is a secret pact between teacher and students that does not include me.
Audun's brother Egil, two years older, has just died after driving JD's car into a river, and Audun is haunted but too imbued with teenage cool to speak of it to anyone. Audun's best friend is Arvid, a character who appears in most of Petterson's books, so often that the writer calls him "my stunt man" in interviews. Arvid is the voice of reason, also from a working-class home but a home full of books. Vietnam rages in the background, and Arvid tries gently to pull Audun into the local chapter of the anti-imperialist NLF party. Audun is not a joiner, but like his friend he is a reader, familiar with the work of anti-colonialist economist Jan Myrdal, Maksim Gorky, and above all, that great chronicler of lost boyhood, lost nature, lost human nature — Jack London.

Everything is shifting under their feet. Farms are being swallowed up by spreading urbanism — there's a nostalgia for "thatched houses and log walls and attics and birch trees right outside your window and meadowland where the wind and the rain sweep across the tall grass in one long, surging swell and make you think of films you have seen and of walking barefoot, and then it painfully passes and is squeezed into a funnel with only one narrow way out." Religion proves more useless every day — the minister who presides at Egil's funeral doesn't seem to have a human clue. And education doesn't hold any keys to a happy future, either. So Audun, with one year left of school, drops out and goes to work as a pressman. Turns out that's not much fun, either.

Audun has the soul of a poet. He wants to be a writer, but he's so busy building defenses against the pain adults have strewn in his path that there's no time for it. "The teachers live in their terraced houses, and a few writers, too: Tor Obrestad, Einar Okland and Paal-Helge Haugen. Like birds on a wire, they sit in their windows looking up to the sky with the sun on their faces, holding on to the secret, and I envy them so furiously it makes my legs tremble." What you will remember about Audun is a quality that you can see in the faces of young men (and women) everywhere: toughing it out but more than a little bit lost.

It's Fine By Me was written in 1992, two years after Petterson's father, mother, brother, and nephew were killed when an overnight ferry from Oslo to Denmark caught fire. It has been translated brilliantly by Don Bartlett. You can hear echoes of some of Petterson's favorite writers: Jayne Anne Phillips (Machine Dreams inspired him to write), Raymond Carver, and the early work of Knut Hamsun. But the voice is unique, solid, and above all, alive. Whatever angst there is has nothing to do with being Scandinavian: It has to do with being human.

Susan Salter Reynolds is a writer and book critic. She is a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times.

Reviewer: Susan Salter Reynolds

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312595340
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 9/24/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 661,492
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Per Petterson

Per Petterson was born in Oslo in 1952 and worked for several years as an unskilled labourer, a bookseller, a writer and a translator until he made his literary debut in 1987 with the short-story collection Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes, which was widely acclaimed by critics. His novel Out Stealing Horses has been translated into forty languages and won many prizes, including the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 16, 2013

    A small treasure of a book, ¿It¿s Fine by Me¿ gifts the reader


    A small treasure of a book, “It’s Fine by Me” gifts the reader with more of Petterson’s excellent, spare, clean writing that somehow simultaneously conveys unspeakable emotion. Auden Sletten, an eighteen-year-old resident of an Oslo suburb, has not has an easy life; and the story provides insight into why through occasional flashbacks. His alcoholic, abusive father fortunately abandoned the family some years back, leaving Auden, along with his mother and siblings to make their own rocky road. But don’t think this book is a typical “poor-me” saga, for despite Auden’s veneer of toughness, his deep compassion surfaces again and again. Petterson won the prestigious IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for “Out Stealing Horses,” and “It’s Fine,” actually an earlier work, confirms his reputation.

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    Posted August 23, 2013

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