Per Petterson, I Refuse; A Novel, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Minneapolis: Graywolf, English translation 2014), 282pp.
Per Petterson's latest novel is a melancholic stream of consciousness that's set in contemporary rural Norway. The story opens with a chance encounter between two best friends who haven't seen each other in thirty-five years. That leads to flashbacks, told by the different protagonists in both the first and third person, about their respective childhoods, and how life has shaped them since then.
Jim's mother was a deeply Christian single mother. He never knew his father. For his buddy Tommy it was the reverse. He knew his father all too well — he was violently abusive, while his mother left the family early on. By adulthood, Tommy is driving a new Mercedes, while Jim's life is at "half-mast." He's divorced, popping pills, attempted suicide, and queuing up at the Social Security office. Even the Army refused to take him.
The dark meditations of these men, and Petterson's long, run-on sentences, might not be everybody's cup of tea. Jim and Tommy were best friends despite divergent backgrounds, but as adults they struggle with similar experiences of Weltschmerz.
Tommy meets his derelict dad after forty years and still hates him. At least three times characters in the story"refuse" what life has offered them. Perhaps this is the best one can do in life? By the last pages, both men are in tears. Chance. Choices. Reversals of fortune. Lingering, painful memories about families of origin over which we had no control. These are the mysteries of history that two friends try to decipher.