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"I Curse the River of Time" by Per Petterson

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 Translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund with the author

In a shortish narrative that jumps around in time, Per Petterson relays the story of Arvid, a man in his mid-thirties who cannot get along with his mother. Emotions stay buried deeply in this story, and only surface when Arvid behaves badly.

We witness as Arvid, still in his teens, announces to his mother that he’s leaving college to join the worldwide proletariat as a member of the Communist Party. She slaps him. He travels to a lake with his girlfriend, and while they have fun, we don’t see her any more after this episode. And he hears the news that his mother is terminally ill, but can’t find the love inside required to be anything but a pest, forcing himself into her company as she travels from Oslo to Denmark to visit a home from long ago.

There isn’t much to recommend Arvid, and very likely this is the point. We get this first-person portrait of a very unsympathetic character; his desires and approach to life are rather childish; his wife is divorcing him, and there are mysterious

occurrences in the past concerning a couple of his brothers. This strikes as an example of viewing the world from the eyes of a problem child, a troublesome employee, an adult man who in some ways has failed to launch. It’s effective in that way, but the string that should pull this narrative taut and lift it off the surface in my view stays slack and accomplishes nothing.

Per Petterson is admired for his other work, and I have probably latched on to something lesser here.

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