Thursday, September 16, 2010

a quality of light

Per Petterson's feet, and I don't know if anyone noticed this or if anyone else could see, were lifting, releasing themselves one at a time from the burden of holding him in place for the length of time he had been asked to spend in front of us, reading his story.

My father told me that Out Stealing Horses was less like an exceptional reading experience, and more like being introduced to a new quality of light. He told me that as he read it he was brought back to his boyhood in Maine, to the barn, and to the shafts of light falling through the air, catching the motes of hay dust. I Curse the River of Time, and To Siberia, and, I will hazard a guess, In the Wake, all share that same quality; perhaps none are quite so crystalline as the former, but what Petterson does (and this I am lifting from my father's words, too) is to leave the light alone in the center of everything he writes. Weightless, illuminating light. So unlike all of the things of this world about which we tell stories. About which he tells his stories.

Letting light be the center, his words are quick, his sentences piercing. Petterson doesn't need to buttress a cathedral in his books, he needs to balance needles in the sunlight.

I don't have the faintest idea of what it means to write like that, but to whoever it was that asked him tonight what lessons he hoped his readers would get from his books, that is why I think he had no answer for you. Asked about how he creates his characters, he said that you have to imagine them, and then place your self above them, and then sink your self right down into them, until you can see out of their eyes. The best novels, the best paintings, the best songs, the best people...they leave that space in the middle of themselves, for you.

Per Petterson knows how to write a story in such a way that you find yourself in all the things he doesn't say. His books are cradles built for light, and air, and people.

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