Out Stealing Horses
  • Out Stealing Horses
  • Out Stealing Horses

Out Stealing Horses

3.8 108
by Per Petterson

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We were going out stealing horses. That was what he said, standing at the door to the cabin where I was spending the summer with my father. I was fifteen. It was 1948 and oneof the first days of July.

Trond's friend Jon often appeared at his doorstep with an adventure in mind for the two of them. But this morning was

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We were going out stealing horses. That was what he said, standing at the door to the cabin where I was spending the summer with my father. I was fifteen. It was 1948 and oneof the first days of July.

Trond's friend Jon often appeared at his doorstep with an adventure in mind for the two of them. But this morning was different. What began as a joy ride on "borrowed" horses ends with Jon falling into a strange trance of grief. Trond soon learns what befell Jon earlier that day--an incident that marks the beginning of a series of vital losses for both boys.

Set in the easternmost region of Norway, Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson begins with an ending. Sixty-seven-year-old Trond has settled into a rustic cabin in an isolated area to live the rest of his life with a quiet deliberation. A meeting with his only neighbor, however, forces him to reflect on that fateful summer.

Editorial Reviews

*The Independent
Out Stealing Horses looks like a charming but modest chamber-piece. In retrospect—and this is a novel that strikes deep and lingers long—it feels more like some shattering literary symphony.
Publishers Weekly

Award-winning Norwegian novelist Petterson renders the meditations of Trond Sander, a man nearing 70, dwelling in self-imposed exile at the eastern edge of Norway in a primitive cabin. Trond's peaceful existence is interrupted by a meeting with his only neighbor, who seems familiar. The meeting pries loose a memory from a summer day in 1948 when Trond's friend Jon suggests they go out and steal horses. That distant summer is transformative for Trond as he reflects on the fragility of life while discovering secrets about his father's wartime activities. The past also looms in the present: Trond realizes that his neighbor, Lars, is Jon's younger brother, who "pulls aside the fifty years with a lightness that seems almost indecent." Trond becomes immersed in his memory, recalling that summer that shaped the course of his life while, in the present, Trond and Lars prepare for the winter, allowing Petterson to dabble in parallels both bold and subtle. Petterson coaxes out of Trond's reticent, deliberate narration a story as vast as the Norwegian tundra. (June)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
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 aroundcasually 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.
The New Yorker
Petterson's spare and deliberate prose has astonishing force.
The New York Times Book Review
A gripping account of such originality as to expand the reader's own experience of life.
The Irish Times
A . . . miracle of a book.
The Independent
Out Stealing Horses looks like a charming but modest chamber-piece. In retrospect—and this is a novel that strikes deep and lingers long—it feels more like some shattering literary symphony.

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Product Details

Graywolf Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.02(w) x 8.39(h) x 0.97(d)

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Out Stealing Horses

By Per Petterson, Anne Born

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2003 Per Petterson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55597-070-3


Early November. It's nine o'clock. The titmice are banging against the window. Sometimes they fly dizzily off after the impact, other times they fall and lie struggling in the new snow until they can take off again. I don't know what they want that I have. I look out the window at the forest. There is a reddish light over the trees by the lake. It is starting to blow. I can see the shape of the wind on the water.

I live here now, in a small house in the far east of Norway. A river flows into the lake. It is not much of a river, and it gets shallow in the summer, but in the spring and autumn it runs briskly, and there are trout in it. I have caught some myself. The mouth of the river is only a hundred metres from here. I can just see it from my kitchen window once the birch leaves have fallen. As now in November. There is a cottage down by the river that I can see when its lights are on if I go out onto my doorstep. A man lives there. He is older than I am, I think. Or he seems to be. But perhaps that's because I do not realise what I look like myself, or life has been tougher for him than it has been for me. I cannot rule that out. He has a dog, a border collie.

I have a bird table on a pole a little way out in my yard. When it is getting light in the morning I sit at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and watch them come fluttering in. I have seen eight different species so far, which is more than anywhere else I have lived, but only the titmice fly into the window. I have lived in many places. Now I am here. When the light comes I have been awake for several hours. Stoked the fire. Walked around, read yesterday's paper, washed yesterday's dishes, there were not many. Listened to the B.B.C. I keep the radio on most of the day. I listen to the news, cannot break that habit, but I do not know what to make of it any more. They say sixty-seven is no age, not nowadays, and it does not feel it either, I feel pretty spry. But when I listen to the news it no longer has the same place in my life. It does not affect my view of the world as once it did. Maybe there is something wrong with the news, the way it is reported, maybe there's too much of it. The good thing about the B.B.C.'s World Service, which is broadcast early in the morning, is that everything sounds foreign, that nothing is said about Norway, and that I can get updated on the position of countries like Jamaica, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka in a sport such as cricket; a game I have never seen played and never will see, if I have a say in the matter. But what I have noticed is that 'The Motherland', England, is constantly being beaten. That's always something.

I too have a dog. Her name is Lyra. What breed she is would not be easy to say. It's not that important. We have been out already, with a torch, on the path we usually take, along the lake with its few millimetres of ice up against the bank where the dead rushes are yellow with autumn, and the snow fell silently, heavily out of the dark sky above, making Lyra sneeze with delight. Now she lies there close to the stove, asleep. It has stopped snowing. As the day wears on it will all melt. I can tell that from the thermometer. The red column is rising with the sun.

All my life I have longed to be alone in a place like this. Even when everything was going well, as it often did. I can say that much. That it often did. I have been lucky. But even then, for instance in the middle of an embrace and someone whispering words in my ear I wanted to hear, I could suddenly get a longing to be in a place where there was only silence. Years might go by and I did not think about it, but that does not mean that I did not long to be there. And now I am here, and it is almost exactly as I had imagined it.

In less than two months' time this millennium will be finished. There will be festivities and fireworks in the parish I am a part of. I shall not go near any of that. I will stay at home with Lyra, perhaps go for a walk down to the lake to see if the ice will carry my weight. I am guessing minus ten and moonlight, and then I will stoke the fire, put a record on the old gramophone with Billie Holiday's voice almost a whisper, like when I heard her in the Oslo Colosseum some time in the 50s, almost burned out, yet still magic, and then fittingly get drunk on a bottle I have standing by in the cupboard. When the record ends I will go to bed and sleep as heavily as it is possible to sleep without being dead, and awake to a new millennium and not let it mean a thing. I am looking forward to that.

In the meantime, I am spending my days getting this place in order. There is quite a lot that needs doing, I did not pay much for it. In fact, I had been prepared to shell out a lot more to lay my hands on the house and the grounds, but there was not much competition. I do understand why now, but it doesn't matter. I am pleased anyway. I try to do most of the work myself, even though I could have paid a carpenter, I am far from skint, but then it would have gone too fast. I want to use the time it takes. Time is important to me now, I tell myself. Not that it should pass quickly or slowly, but be only time, be something I live inside and fill with physical things and activities that I can divide it up by, so that it grows distinct to me and does not vanish when I am not looking.

Something happened last night.

I had gone to bed in the small room beside the kitchen where I put a temporary bed up under the window, and I had fallen asleep, it was past midnight, and it was pitch dark outside. Going out for a last pee behind the house I could feel the cold. I give myself that liberty. For the time being there is nothing but an outdoor toilet here. No one can see anyway, the forest standing thick to the west.

What woke me was a loud, penetrating sound repeated at brief intervals, followed by silence, and then starting again. I sat up in bed, opened the window a crack and looked out. Through the darkness I could see the yellow beam of a torch a little way down the road by the river. The person holding the torch must be the one making the sound I had heard, but I couldn't understand what kind of sound it was or why he was making it. If it was a he. Then the ray of light swung aimlessly to right and left, as if resigned, and I caught a glimpse of the lined face of my neighbour. He had something in his mouth that looked like a cigar, and then the sound came again, and I realised it was a dog whistle, although I had never seen one before. And he started to call the dog. Poker, he shouted, Poker, which was the dog's name. Come here, boy, he shouted, and I lay down in bed again and closed my eyes, but I knew I would not get back to sleep.

All I wanted was to sleep. I have grown fussy about the hours I get, and although they are not many, I need them in a completely different way than before. A ruined night throws a dark shadow for many days ahead and makes me irritable and feel out of place. I have no time for that. I need to concentrate. All the same, I sat up in bed again, swung my legs in the pitch black to the floor and found my clothes over the back of the chair. I had to gasp when I felt how cold they were. Then I went through the kitchen and into the hall and pulled on my old pea jacket, took the torch from the shelf and went out onto the steps. It was coal black. I opened the door again, put my hand in and switched on the outside light. That helped. The red-painted outhouse wall threw a warm glow across the yard.

I have been lucky, I say to myself. I can go out to a neighbour in the night when he is searching for his dog, and it will take me only a couple of days and I will be OK again. I switched on the torch and began walking down the road from the yard towards where he was still standing on the gentle slope, swinging his torch so that the beam moved slowly round in a circle towards the edge of the forest, across the road, along the river bank and back to its starting point. Poker, he called, Poker, and then blew the whistle, and the sound had an unpleasantly high frequency in the quiet of the night, and his face, his body, were hidden in the darkness. I did not know him, had only spoken to him a few times on the way past his cottage when I was out with Lyra most often at quite an early hour, and I suddenly felt like going back in again and forgetting all about it; what could I do anyway, but now he must have seen the light of my torch, and it was too late, and after all there was something about this character I could barely make out there in the night alone. He ought not to be alone like that. It was not right.

'Hello,' I called quietly, mindful of the silence. He turned, and for a moment I could not see anything, the beam of his torch hit me straight in my face, and when he realised that, he aimed the torch down. I stood still for a few seconds to recover my night vision, then I walked to where he was, and we stood there together, each with our bright beam pointing from hip height at the landscape around us, and nothing resembled what it looked like by day. I have grown accustomed to the dark. I cannot remember ever being afraid of it, but I must have been, and now it feels natural and safe and transparent — no matter how much in fact is hidden there, though that means nothing. Nothing can challenge the lightness and freedom of the body; height unconfined, distance unlimited, for these are not the properties of darkness. It is only an immeasurable space to move about inside.

'He's run off again,' said my neighbour. 'Poker. My dog, that is. It happens. He always comes back. But it's hard to sleep when he's gone like that. There are wolves in the forest now. At the same time, I feel I can't keep the door shut.'

He seems a bit embarrassed. I probably would be if it were my dog. I don't know what I would do if Lyra had run off, whether I would go out by myself to search for her.

'Did you know that they say the border collie is the most intelligent dog in the world?' he said.

'I have heard that,' I said.

'He is smarter than I am, Poker, and he knows it.' My neighbour shook his head. 'He's about to take charge, I'm afraid.'

'Well, that's not so good,' I said.

'No,' he said.

It struck me that we had never really introduced ourselves, so I raised my hand, shining the torch on it so he could see it and said:

'Trond Sander.' That confused him. It took him a moment or two to change his torch to his left hand and take my right hand with his, and then he said:

'Lars. Lars Haug. With a g.'

'How do you do?' I said, and it sounded as bizarre and strange out there in the dark night as when my father said 'Condolences' at a funeral in the depths of the forest many, many years ago, and immediately I regretted saying those four words, but Lars Haug did not seem to notice. Maybe he thought it was the proper thing to say, and that the situation was no odder than it might be whenever grown men greet each other in a field.

There was silence all around us. There had been days and nights of rain and wind and incessant roaring in the pines and the spruce, but now there was absolute stillness in the forest, not a shadow moving, and we stood still, my neighbour and I, staring into the dark, then I felt certain there was something behind me. I could not escape the sudden feeling of sheer cold down my back, and Lars Haug felt it too; he directed his torchlight at a point a couple of metres past me, and I turned, and there stood Poker, quite stiff and on guard. I have seen that before, how a dog can both sense and show the feeling of guilt, and like most of us it was something it did not like, especially when its owner started talking to it in an almost childlike tone of voice, which did not go well with the weather-beaten, lined face of a man who had undoubtedly been out on a cold night before and dealt with wayward things, complicated things in a contrary wind, things of high gravity — I could tell that when we shook hands.

'Ah, where have you been, Poker, you stupid dog, been disobedient to your daddy again? Shame on you, bad boy, shame on you, that's no way to behave,' and he took a step towards the dog, and it started growling deep down in its throat, flattening its ears. Lars Haug stopped in his tracks. He let his torch sink until it shone directly on the ground, and I could just pick out the white patches of the dog's coat, the black ones blending with the night, and it all looked strangely at odds and unsymmetrical as the growl low in the animal's throat went on from a slightly less definite point, and my neighbour said:

'I have shot a dog once before, and I promised myself then that I would never do it again. But now I don't know.' He had lost his confidence, it was clear, he could not work out his next move, and I suddenly felt desperately sorry for him. The feeling welled up from I don't know where, from some place out in the dark, where something might have happened in a different time entirely, or from somewhere in my own life I had long since forgotten, and it made me embarrassed and ill at ease. I cleared my throat and in a voice I could not wholly control I said:

'What kind of dog was it that you had to shoot?' Although I do not think that that was what I was interested in, I had to say something to calm the sudden trembling in my chest.

'An Alsatian. But it was not mine. It happened on the farm where I grew up. My mother saw it first. It ran around at the edge of the forest hunting roe deer: two terrified young fauns we had several times seen from the window grazing in the brushwood at the edge of the north meadow. They always kept close, and they did so then. The Alsatian chased them, encircled them, bit at their hocks, and they were exhausted and didn't stand a chance. My mother could not bear to look any longer, so she phoned the bailiff and asked him what to do, and he said: 'You'll just have to shoot it.'

'That's a job for you, Lars,' she said when she had put the receiver down. 'Do you think you can manage it?' I didn't want to, I must say, I hardly ever touched that gun, but I felt really sorry for the fauns, and I couldn't exactly ask her to do it, and there was no-one else at home. My big brother was away at sea, and my step-father was in the forest felling timber for the neighbouring farmer as he usually did at that time of year. So I fetched the gun and walked across the meadow towards the forest. When I got there I couldn't see the dog anywhere. I stood still listening. It was autumn, the air was really clear in the middle of the day, and the quietness was almost uncanny. I turned and looked back to the house, where I knew my mother was by the window watching everything I did. She was not going to let me off. I looked into the forest again, along a path, and there suddenly I saw the two roe deer running in my direction. I knelt down and raised the gun and laid my cheek to the barrel, and the big fauns were so frantic with terror that they did not notice me, or they had not the strength to worry about yet another enemy. They did not change course at all, but ran straight at me and rushed past a hand's breadth from my shoulder, I heard them panting and saw the whites of their wide staring eyes.'

Lars Haug paused, raised the torch and shone it on Poker, who had not moved from his place just behind me. I did not turn, but I heard the dog's low growl. It was a disturbing sound, and the man in front of me bit his lip and ran the fingers of his left hand over his forehead with an uncertain movement before he went on.

'Thirty metres after them came the Alsatian. It was a huge beast. I fired immediately. I am sure I hit it, but it did not change speed or direction, a shudder might have run through its body, I really don't know, so I fired again, and it went down on its knees and got up again and kept on running. I was quite desperate and let off a third round, it was just a few metres from me, and it somersaulted and fell with its legs in the air and slid right up to the toes of my boots. But it was not dead. It lay there paralysed, looking straight up at me, and I felt sorry for it then, I must say, so I bent down to give it a last pat on the head, and it growled and snapped at my hand. I jumped back. It made me furious and I gave it two more rounds right through the head.'

Lars Haug stood there with his face barely visible, the torch hanging tiredly from his hand, throwing only a small yellow disc of light on the ground. Pine needles. Pebbles. Two fir-cones. Poker stood dead still without a sound, and I wondered whether dogs can hold their breath.

'Bloody hell,' I said.

'I was just eighteen,' he said. 'It's long ago, but I shall never forget it.'

'Then I can well understand why you will never shoot a dog again,' I said.

'We'll see about that,' said Lars Haug. 'But now I'd better take this one inside. It is late. Come, Poker,' he said, his voice sharp now, and started to walk down the road. Poker followed him obediently, some metres behind. When they came to the little bridge, Lars Haug stopped and waved his torch.


Excerpted from Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, Anne Born. Copyright © 2003 Per Petterson. Excerpted by permission of Graywolf Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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