I Refuse, Per Petterson, 2012

Per Petterson’s 2012 novel is another very dark journey through a Norway of cold and snow and people who are every bit as frozen emotionally as the terrain.  Using multiple narrators who each get several chapters and darting back and forth between 1964 and 2006, we enter the unhappy and twisted lives of Tommy Berggren and his family and Jim Harrison and his.  They part in 1996 when Jim is hospitalized after a suicide attempt and only cross paths by accident in 2006 on a bridge while Jim, unemployed and mentally unstable, is fishing and Tommy, a successful but lonely stockbroker, is driving across the bridge in his Mercedes.  Flashbacks acquaint us with Tommy’s family—mother who abandons the four children, father who savagely beats them, a sister who eventually becomes a relief worker for Save the Children (too obvious!) and twins who never reappear.  Jim lives with his Christian mother.  The novel ends with the characters all in motion towards what appears to be an inevitably bad ending.  Too dark, slow, and unhappy for me.  Harriet Land in her 2015 NYT review said that ‘your patience is tested, then rewarded’ and the ‘author has been digging away at screwed up blue collar Norwegian boyhood since 1987.’  Maybe one needs to be Norwegian to get into Petterson.