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New Yorker Fiction Review: "Come Together" by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Issue: February 17th & 24th, 2014

Story: "Come Together"

Author: Karl Ove Knausgaard

I read this story about a week ago and therefore it had a long time to sink in. Usually when I wait that long to write my blog post, something from the story has rattled around in my brain long enough to be just rearing to jump out on the page. Not so in this case, I'm afraid.

What we have here is a fairly textbook awkward tween-ager story of love and romance, set in Norway and translated from Norwegian. Knowing that it's creative non-fiction (essentially memoir) is important here because, in and of itself, I think the story falls a bit flat. I can see, however, how it might work as part of a larger narrative arch about this author's life, and in fact, it is part of a forthcoming volume of his behemoth My Struggle series (this volume is Boyhood), which is supposedly slated for some six volumes or something.

In the story, Karl Ove is about twelve or 13 and an ardent music geek with tastes far more esoteric and advanced than those of his peers. Therefore, he's not exactly in the "In Crowd" but he's not a complete outcast either; he plays soccer, he starts a band. Basically, he's an average kid. One day he gets a crush on a schoolgirl from a nearby town and they begin a flirtation. Emulating behaviors he has seen from other, less cerebral boys with their own girlfriends, Karl Ove tries to do the things he thinks a boy should do with his girlfriend, except his efforts only drive his girlfriend away. He was able to get her, he just couldn't keep her, and his heartache is profound.

Experiences of the kind depicted in this story are fairly common among junior-high age kids who are testing out the new rules of the game they've been thrust into: adolescence. Some of them jump right in and swim like fish; others, like Karl Ove here, have pretty traumatic experiences and the emotional scars to prove it. This story resonated with me only because I had some similarly pathetic and and awkward experiences with most guys probably did at one point.

However, what's missing is an explanation of why this incident stayed with the author through the years. It seems to have been slightly traumatic, yes, but he spends so much time (way too long) on the ascension of the relationship that there is no time left to explore the aftermath or any possible lessons learned. I'd have liked to see Karl Ove make his tragic female blunder in the middle or the story, or even the beginning, and watch him try and deal with the aftermath or pick himself up. As it was, we get a long drawn out build up to something we kind of secretly know is going to happen; then when it happens it's as if the air is let out of the balloon and that's it.

There is a sort of okay theme here about how music can help save your soul from the bitter despair of times like these in our lives, but it feels un-earned and poorly thought-out. Just because you drop a bunch of song lyrics and album titles into a story doesn't mean you're automatically on some higher plane of understanding where life and music fuse into one and everyone is supposed to stand back and marvel at how inter textual you are. Far from it; in fact, in most cases, I've found it to be a turn-off.

All that being said, I reserve judgement on this author just yet and will have to read something(s) else by him in order to get a better sense of what he's about.


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