In the latest novel by Norwegian writer Per Petterson, his alter-ego character, Arvid, returns to reflect on the bleak period after his divorce and the death of his parents and siblings in a tragic ferry accident. He spends his time drinking, falling into fleeting relationships with women and driving around in his Mazda while mining his own despair.
Men in My Situation is fraught with tentativeness, for Arvid never seems to fully grasp anything or anyone he encounters. This is illuminated by Petterson’s use of first-person narration, which gives the reader a window into Arvid’s state of mind. The prose is as hesitant as our protagonist ... The book is so filled with refences to Oslo and its surroundings that it feels like a map ... At first glance, the geographic specificity seems gratuitous; ultimately, it creates the vivid sense of displacement that embodies Arvid’s feeling of loss ... Men in My Situation is superbly written and expertly translated. The language flows and seems quite natural—almost simple—yet is filled with richness and complexity. Per Petterson does not disappoint.
... the author seems particularly interested in the uses to which suffering can be put, the ways it can be marshaled for personal gain as well as the corrosive effect it can have on relationships ... Arvid’s tortured dealings can be annoying. His cluelessness and self-pity wear on the reader. His take on the experiences of adult women is often cliched ... Still, Petterson’s depiction of post-marriage disorientation rings painfully true ... The emotional claustrophobia in these sections is reminiscent of Elena Ferrante’s ferocious Days of Abandonment ... For all its run-on sentences and muddled emotions, Men in My Situation is possessed of an austerity and bleakness that is satisfyingly unforgiving (and that is tempting for an American reviewer to attach to cold, northern weather conditions—but I shall resist). The hapless, deeply flawed Arvid can make no sense of the string of senseless events that make a life. And his puzzlement offers comfort, transcending middle-aged male disaffection to speak to the universal condition of adulthood.
... translated into English with great flair by Ingvild Burkey ... Petterson describes in meticulous detail the invidious position Arvid finds himself in as an ex-husband and sometime parent ... The novel focuses...on Arvid’s marriage breakdown and his hapless parenting. It’s a strangely narrow viewfinder for a story with such a colossal event [the death of his family in a fire] at its heart. Only in the context of the writer’s wider body of work does it makes sense ... the latest instalment, while undeniably excellent, can at times feel like a partial telling of a bigger story. Line by line, page by page, it would be hard to find a better writer than Petterson. Men in My Situation is a vivid and moving account of Arvid’s struggle to survive life’s brutal blows.