Per Petterson


How many people think like this? Probably as many as think like Leopold Bloom or Mrs. Ramsay or one of David Foster Wallace’s characters. Petterson is remarkably gifted at capturing not so much randomness or irrelevance (habitual catchments of the stream of consciousness) as the staggered distances of memory: one detail seems near at hand, while another can be seen only cloudily; one mental picture seems small, while another seems portentous. Yet everything is jumbled in the recollection, because the most proximate memory may be the least important, the portentous detail relatively trivial. Petterson’s interest is pictorial and spatial rather than logical and interrogative. His sentences yearn to fly away into poetry; it is rare to find prose at once so exact and so vague. Yet Petterson is novelistically acute about human motive and self-deception. In both passages, our needy, self-involved narrator hovers over his memories, and finally pokes his way back into the narrative with local assertions of self: “and sometimes I, too, was in that taxi”; “which in fact I did at a funeral not long ago.”

more from James Wood at The New Yorker here.