Monday, December 10, 2007

thoughts on a genre label


The New York Times Book Review recently listed "Out Stealing Horses" by Tor Petterson, a book I read this past year, as one of the 10 Best Books of 2007. The book encompasses a coming-of-age story of a Norwegian boy, Trond, beginning with a summer in 1948 when he lived with his father in a rustic cabin near the border between Norway and Sweden. The title derives from the boy and a local friend stealing rides on a farmer's horses at night. Other accounts of Trond's subsequent summer experiences at the cabin are given as reflections when Trond returns to the cabin to live out his final days as an old man. We learn that Trond's father was part of the Norwegian Resistance against the occupying Nazi forces, and of an occasion when Trond accompanies him on one of his trips into Sweden. As Trond becomes an older teen, he helps his father float logs, cut from their cabin property, down the river to a sawmill in Sweden. The quiet, ending days of Trond in the wintery cabin have an almost poetic simplicity.

I suppose I would have wondered whether to pitch this novel, if it were mine, wishful thinking, as a YA or general literary fiction novel. Would it have been any easier to market as one or the other? Would it have been as successful if marketed as a YA novel? Would the declining arc of Trond's life, no matter how beautifully written, engage a young reader?

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