A Meditation on Friendship

Guest Post by Leah Browning

I Refuse is a novel by Per Petterson about two childhood friends. Tommy and Jim are now adults and have been estranged for many years when they unexpectedly cross paths on a bridge outside Oslo.

Per Petterson, who also grew up in Norway, is a thoughtful and moving writer. Overall, I see this book is a meditation on friendship, not only between the two main characters, but between others as well. There are several instances where a spontaneous act of kindness reverberates through another person’s day or even, in at least one case, an entire lifetime.

The book also focuses on something slipperier: the role of persistence or determination in a person’s life. One of the boys has a harsh, even brutal home life; the other has, in many ways, been luckier. Either could be destroyed by his circumstances.

At the beginning of the book, one of the men has been fishing, but it could have been either one: “As a rule I drove home before the first cars came down the hill towards the bridge, but today I had frittered my time away. I hadn’t even started to pack my bag, and the cars that were coming were classy cars, expensive cars. I turned my back to the road, my frayed navy blue reefer jacket wrapped tightly round me. I’d had that jacket ever since I was a boy in Mørk, and only one of the old brass buttons was still intact, and I had a woollen cap on as blue as the jacket, pulled down over my ears, so from behind I could have been anyone.”

Ambition has pushed one of the men in a strange, sometimes cruel direction. In this time of social distancing, reading about the powerful impact of friends and family members feels especially relevant.


I Refuse by Per Petterson (translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett). Graywolf Press, 2015.

Reviewer bio: Leah Browning edits the Apple Valley Review, which publishes short fiction, personal essays, and poetry in spring and fall issues. She occasionally blogs at https://leahbrowning.blogspot.com/.

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