Excerpt from I Refuse by Per Petterson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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I Refuse

by Per Petterson

I Refuse by Per Petterson X
I Refuse by Per Petterson
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2015, 224 pages

    May 2016, 288 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Darcie R.J. Abbene
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JIM • TOMMY • 1970

Jim and Tommy came down the path between the trees towards Lake Aurtjern. The ice shone in the moonlight. They were up to their ankles in snow. Their ice hockey skates dangled on their chests with the laces tied around their necks. They were both wearing caps, Jim's long hair was tucked under the edge, and they looked unfamiliar, different, even to each other, but although Tommy was taller than Jim they looked more like each other with their caps on than they did without, although they weren't aware of it themselves.

The moon was mirrored on the ice, and the ice looked as solid as it was. It was a night of blue ice, minus ten degrees, and the moon lit up parts of the rocky hill behind the lake and drew dark lines down where the ravines ran from the top to the far bank. A fir tree leaned over the lake casting crooked shadows across the ice. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. Everything was still. They stopped for a moment in the snow by the bank and gazed at what lay in front of them. Jim turned to Tommy and said:

'You could get religious for less.'

'You're already religious,' Tommy said.

'Not so much any longer, in fact. I'm a socialist. I'm for a classless society.'

Tommy didn't answer, but stood with his back straight, staring across the lake to the far bank and the shadow of the hill and the moonlight leaking in between the trees and the perfect, shiny ice.

'I'll be damned,' he said. Then they walked down to the ice.

It was winter, it was 1970, December, they had both turned eighteen, one after the other, Jim in October and Tommy in November. Only two days later Tommy took his driving test and bought himself an old white Mercedes he had been saving up for. The Beatles had split up, they would never come back as they had been. It was Yoko Ono's fault, but it made no difference, there was nothing left to say, it wasn't even sad. The Sixties were gone anyway. It was over.

Now they lifted the laces over their heads and dropped the skates on the ice and took off their woollen mittens and knelt down to loosen the knots and extend the leather on both sides of the tongue so a foot could slip in. They tightened the laces carefully all the way up to the ankle and ran them twice round it and tied them in a simple knot and then crossed them on the way down again and wound them tightly round the foot between the leather and the blade and tied the flat brown laces in a final double loop and got up and took a few cautious steps on the ice. It was a long time since they had been on the ice, skating, but it went better than expected, their ankles didn't buckle. They set off slowly, side by side, along the bank and had to hold each other's shoulder, arm over arm, hand over hand, most of the way until they turned into the first cove and came out again in much better style a bit further up. Then they moved faster and skated around the edge of Lake Aurtjern in a circle, more confident now, it was like figure skating, floating, swinging through the air, and Tommy laughed, Jesus, he shouted, here we come, and they both laughed, and their voices had a very special sound, not like in a forest at all, but more like inside a room, on an indoor stage, but without an audience, then, which of course was the point, that there should not be an audience, and with a few hefty thrusts of their skates they raced across the lake in a straight line and braked sideways-on in the middle of it all with a shower of ice spraying up from the blades like you could see in an ice hockey match on TV and stopped and stood still and only slowly looked from side to side, and there was nothing but forest, and no one else was out tonight.

Jim was out of breath, the air came from his mouth in icy fumes, and it was him who said:

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Excerpted from I Refuse by Per Petterson. Copyright © 2015 by Per Petterson. Excerpted by permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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