Thursday, September 27, 2012
Review: It's Fine By Me
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended; Audun's the Norwegian Holden Caulfield, y'all
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Release Date: Oct 2012
So there's this thing people are doing with books that feature young protagonists - they are automatically labeling them "Young Adult" (YA). You've see it too, haven't you? I'm not going crazy, right?
For reasons that I find hard to put into words (or, that I find hard to put into words that won't result in me getting pelted with rotten tomatoes), this mis-classification really bothers me. YA is not a character-based genre. It's a reader-based genre. It's meant to classify novels that are written for young adults. YA books contain story lines that are particularly appealing to young adults, and that are written in age-appropriate language.
I mention this because I noticed, while adding Per Petterson's upcoming release to my goodreads shelves, that some of the reviewers there have It's Fine By Me filed away as YA, which it most definitely is not. Sure, it's got an angsty, teenage protagonist who goes out of his way to not fit in and makes a general ruckus of things, and it's likely going to resonate with anyone past, present, and future who disliked school and felt like they never quite belonged there, but it's not written specifically for the younger audience.
Audun Sletten is the Norwegian Holden Caulfield. I feel like this needs to be said. He's got some of the same crassness, that 'devil may care' attitude that feels comfortably familiar. He's been toughened by a rough childhood and doesn't want to talk about it. He fancies himself a loner - the kid in the shades, rolling cigarettes on his own in the corner of the school yard - who doesn't want any trouble, though he'll be the first to start it if someone comes looking for it and then make sure you knew you had it coming.
To his surprise (and mine), he befriends a young Arvid - who we met as a grown man struggling to come to terms with his ailing, secretive mother in Petterson's 2010 release I Curse the River of Time. A fiercely loyal companion, Audun passes the time away with Arvid by discussing Ernest Hemingway and Jack London and making rounds around town. But we know something his friends, and teachers, and even his own mother, doesn't - Audun's keeping a secret and is having a hard time reconciling his emotional side with his cool, calm, and collected image.
Per Petterson, true to the style that I loved in River of Time, take his time telling Audun's story, allowing the events and story lines to flow freely, in and out of each other, revealing themselves when they are ready, bleeding the past and present together, seamlessly. For Audun, it's a coming of age story. For us, it's a reminder of how hard that period in our lives had been - trying to discover who we were meant to be; developing our outer persona while struggling to tame the whiny, uncertain inner one; figuring out what we wanted and how that fit into what life was demanding...
Another knock-out novel from an author who is quickly climbing the ladder to the top of my favorites list. Is it possible for Petterson to put out a bad novel? Let's hope not, for my sake!!