The Pequod Review:
Out Stealing Horses is a novel about time, memory, friendship and love — earnest qualities for sure, but Per Petterson’s enchanting story has a cumulative power that allows it to rise above the sentimental. Narrated by a 67-year-old widower (Trond Sander) who has chosen to retreat to a remote cabin, the novel is primarily comprised of Trond’s thoughts as he looks back on his younger life. The plot is uneventful, but the book has a quiet and melancholic intensity as Trond considers his current and past experiences:
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.
People like it when you tell them things, in suitable portions, in a modest, intimate tone, and they think they know you, but they do not, they know about you, for what they are let in on are facts, not feelings, not what your opinion is about anything at all, not how what has happened to you and how all the decisions you have made have turned you into who you are. What they do is they fill in with their own feelings and opinions and assumptions, and they compose a new life which has precious little to do with yours, and that lets you off the hook. No-one can touch you unless you yourself want them to.
Then she turns to me. 'Tell me. How are you really?' she says, as if there were two versions of my life, and now she is not on the verge of tears at all, but sharp-voiced as an interrogator.
If perhaps the novel is slow-going in places, maybe that is part of its point – to slow down and notice and remember. As Trond’s father once told him, “But that's life. That's what you learn from; when things happen. Especially at your age. You just have to take it in and remember to think afterwards and not forget and never grow bitter. Do you understand?"