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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Friday, January 16, 2015

One of the worst fathers in literature: Why Karl Ove Knausgaard's father is such a monster

How can you not feel almost unbearable sorrow and pity for the young Karl Ove Knausgaard in volume 3 of his series, My Struggle, trying as best he can to live a normal boyhood (the title of this volume) and living in constant fear of the wrath of his unpredictable and nasty father (an Old Testament god?). Among the many, many painful scenes: KOK comes home from a day in which he romps with his friends in the forest near their home, feels the first stirrings of love and arousal as he shows off for his crush (they're 7 years old!), helps an old woman clear a tree stump from her yard, for which she gives him and 3 friends (including the girlfriend) 5 kroner, and he buys candy that he will share w/ the 4 of them - and then - he gets home and father discovers the candy - what are you hiding under that blanket! - accuses the kid of lying about how he got it, throws the candy away - why oh why is he so mean and dominant? Every time KOK comes home he first checks to see if his father is home, makes these elaborate scheme to evade his father's detection and wrath, is so afraid of his father than he can't even tell him that he can't manage to turn the key to let himself into to house after school (again, he's 7!) but instead rigs an elaborate scheme to move a garbage can and climb in through a window that he leaves open - and then he's terrified his father will see tracks in the grass from moving the can. This is awful - so why do we keep reading? Because set against this is the wonderful story of the smart, sensitive, and playful kid who's just trying to lead his life, make friends, fit in - as KOK said in an earlier volume, there are 2 aspects to his struggle: one is to fit in and be like others and the other is to not fit in and be himself. As a writer, he is absolutely fearless in chronicling every aspect of his life, including painful and embarrassing moments - many of them in this volume about his earliest years, of course - blurting out to the teacher that one of the classmates isn't in school because his father is drunk all the time, reprimanded by the teacher - he just didn't know that this was wrong, he was just a kid - and the teacher is super-kind and thoughtful: we all have these kinds of experiences, and most of us, except for bold writers like KOK, forget, repress, or cringe in shame at these memories - but he puts all of it out there. It's amazing that his father didn't just crush his personality - not that his father was the worst in the world by any means, he's not, for ex., physically abusive or deranged, but it's his moodiness and unpredictability that makes him so harmful and frightening, the poor kid never knows what reaction he will get, and under the "partial reinforcement" syndrome he's constantly striving for the rare praise and support: if his father were a monster always the story would have no dimension and the child would simply avoid him at all costs. The occasional kindness makes him, in that sense, even worse - and the story more compelling.

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