cover image I Refuse

I Refuse

Per Petterson, trans. from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett. Graywolf, $24 (296p) ISBN 978-1-55597-699-6

This latest from the internationally acclaimed novelist (Out Stealing Horses) might be his saddest, most powerful take yet on families torn asunder, missed opportunities, lost friendships, and regrets that span a lifetime. As the story opens, Tommy, a successful financier, unexpectedly encounters his estranged childhood friend Jim, who is fishing off a bridge during Tommy’s early-morning drive. In chapters that switch among several narrators and periods (the 1960s, ’70s, and the present story in 2006), the history of Tommy and Jim’s relationship unfolds. Tommy grows up in a dysfunctional household in rural Norway, in a small town where everyone knows everyone else, and their business. Tommy’s father beats him and his three younger sisters daily; the mother disappeared two years earlier without a trace, although her fate is eventually revealed in a striking subplot. After Tommy stands up to his father, the four siblings are separated by the authorities. Having lost his family, Tommy and Jim become inseparable until a seemingly minor incident on a frozen lake one night during their teens forever changes their relationship. Set against a stark landscape, this is a brilliant, meditative story about how one small, impulsive act can have an irrevocable impact upon one’s life, as well as a rippling effect upon the lives of others. (Apr.)