A child’s birth ushers into being a new, wondrous, and blessedly humbling era. Which my wife Kathy and I seem more consciously aware of as we celebrate the arrival of our first grandchild, Kathy Jane Knight-Gilbert. “We named her for two strong women,” our daughter announced from her hospital bed. Claire and David honored Kathy—surprise!—and his grandmother. Kathy Jane was born Monday, December 15. Adding to the merriment, within days she received a letter provisionally admitting her to my and Kathy’s place of employment, Otterbein University, Class of 2032.
And then a mysterious, ugly, and clearly wicked Creature appeared from the woods nearby.
Kathy Jane’s namesake spied the beast first. Just after first light, returning from a foraging expedition to WalMart, Granny Kathy saw “It” quartering across a clearing near the house. She telephoned me, but I was in the shower. So she snapped a few pictures with her iPhone and burst into the house. I got a quick glimpse of the beast before it disappeared into the woods.
Per Petterson, long loved by Norwegian readers, has become well respected outside the Scandinavian region as his books are rendered in other tongues. The prize-winning 2007 novel Out Stealing Horses was tagged one of that year’s Top Ten by both the New York Times and TIME Magazine, and has been translated into forty-nine languages. He’s written other fiction, but it’s been several years since the last book.
Until now. Number Nine, I Refuse, is due out in April—and it’s a gem.
The concise title symbolizes Petterson’s latest work. It’s short, as is the novel at less than 300 pages. The two-word label is clean, almost Spartan, conveying details through brevity—like most of the sentences found within. Yet one still encounters protracted sentences that reverberate like a drum, steadily provoking a sense of dread. One such powerful linguistic unit containing 156 words focuses on memory.
Rights to the novel have been sold in sixteen countries. For the American edition, designer Kyle G. Hunter used a single row of black leafless trees ringing a frozen pond to slash the utterly white cover in half. One must look closely to find two dark silhouettes trudging toward one another on its surface. Or, are they? The title’s succinct words appear in red against this cold backdrop, almost as a semaphore to signal the reader about what’s inside this lean Nordic tale.