Encircling 2 continues Carl Frode Tiller’s “poised and effective Rashomon-style exploration of multiple psyches” (Kirkus Reviews)
Book two of The Encircling Trilogy continues piecing together the fractured identity of David, the absent central figure who has lost his memory. Three very different friends write letters about his childhood on the backwater island of Otterøya. Ole, a farmer struggling to right his floundering marriage, recalls days in the woods when an act of pretending went very wrong. Tom Roger, a rough-edged outsider slipping into domestic violence, shares a cruder side of David as he crows about their exploits selling stolen motorcycles and spreads gossip about who David’s father might be. But it is Paula, a former midwife now consigned to a nursing home, who has the most explosive secret of all, one that threatens to undo everything we know about David.
With a carefully scored polyphony of voices and an unwavering attention to domestic life, Carl Frode Tiller shows how deeply identity is influenced by our friendships. The Encircling Trilogy is an innovative portrayal of one man’s life that is both starkly honest and unnervingly true.
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Namsos, July 2nd, 2006. From the Bronx to Otterøya
IT'S SO HOT. I roll down the window and rest my elbow on the door, look at my watch, quarter to twelve, he should have been here fifteen minutes ago; well, he shouldn't be long now, nothing to do but wait. I raise my hands, yawn as I run them over my head and down to the back of my neck, lace my fingers together and shut my eyes, sit like that for a few moments, relaxing. It feels like Friday, that's for sure. It's Friday, I'm totally knackered. Thank God it's the weekend soon. A moment more, then I yawn again, open my eyes and there he is, over at the back of the shopping center, talking to a boy in a green and white Domus jacket. Is it Benjamin? Well, well, it is Benjamin, how about that, so Benjamin's got himself a summer job at the supermarket, has he? Well, that's good to see, Jørgen should've got himself a summer job, the days are far too long for him the way things are now, left it a bit late to find a job now, of course, but I suppose I could ask Torstein whether he's had any thoughts yet about painting the barn, be a fine job for Jørgen, that would, and if that doesn't work out, I might have something for him to do at the fish farm, need to get the vaccinations done soon and we could probably do with an extra pair of hands then. Ah well, we'll see.
I stick my head out of the open window and am just about to give him a shout, but I don't get that far, he's already spotted me. He raises his hand and gives Benjamin a kind of a wave, the sort of cool flick of the hand he's picked up from the rappers on TV or something, doesn't even look at Benjamin as he does it, keeps his eyes on the asphalt as he saunters over to me. I watch him slouching across the parking lot, taking in the big, baggy pants, the red cap he's wearing back to front and the skateboard under his arm. I smile to myself, can't help it, he's trying so hard to be hip it's funny. I place my left hand on the sun-baked steering wheel, turn the key in the ignition with the other, the engine coughs and splutters a bit, but then it starts. And then I remember the bag from the state wineshop that's lying on Daniel's carseat. I forgot to take in the stuff I bought there yesterday, so I turn around, grab my jacket and lay it over the bag, although I don't really know why I'm doing this, Jørgen doesn't get upset any more, he's seen me take a drink often enough to know I'm not going to turn out like his dad, so I don't need to go hiding the booze. I sit a moment, then I tug the jacket off the carseat, uncovering the bag again, how stupid can you get, I turn back round, see Jørgen stop and spit out a snus sachet, he cleans the inside of his upper lip with his tongue, spits again, then walks on. I lean over the passenger seat. There's an empty cola bottle and a crumpled, ketchup- smeared hot-dog paper lying on it, I brush them onto the floor, open the door and straighten up again, look at Jørgen and smile as he flops down into the seat.
"Hi," I say.
"Hi," he says, laying the skateboard across his thighs and slamming the door shut. He smells of aftershave and tobacco.
"Watch that skateboard doesn't get in the way of the gearstick," I tell him. "It's a deck."
"Sorry," I say, "I always forget you're really a skateboarder from the Bronx. But in these parts it's still a skateboard."
"Moron," he mutters, saying it without looking at me, trying to look pissed off, but I can tell he thinks it's kind of funny, he sits there trying hard not to smile.
"Maybe you say skateboard out here on Otterøya, but in Namsos we call it a deck," he says, "or a ride, or a wood. And it's not skateboarder. Just skater."
"In the Namsos ghetto, maybe," I say. "But not in the rest of Namsos, surely?"
"Moron," he mutters again, trying to look even more pissed off and aggressive, but I can tell he thinks it's funny, he's sitting there biting the inside of his cheek to stop his lips from widening and softening his face.
"Yeah, yeah, fasten your seat belt, will you." He turns to me, pretending to look gobsmacked, as if to say real men don't wear seat belts, a look that seems to be asking: are you serious?
"Jørgen, just fasten your seat belt," I say, look at him and smile.
"Jeez," he says, gives a snorting little grin and a despairing shake of his head, then he turns to the side and grabs the seat belt. As he does so I catch sight of something in his jacket pocket, a bag with something shiny inside, pushed part-ways out of his pocket when he twists around.
"What's that?" I ask.
"Huh?" he says, looking at me as he draws the belt across his chest.
"That there," I say, nodding at his pocket. He glances down at it and it seems to dawn on him what I'm talking about, he looks up at me again, tries to appear unfazed, but he's rattled, I can tell.
"A chain," he says brightly, gives a little shrug and tries to look as though the question surprises him, but he's uncomfortable, I can see, tries to avoid my eye, all casual like. He looks down, pretends to be having trouble slotting the seat belt into the lock.
"Oh?" I say, "Can I see it?"
He glances up at me again, and suddenly he looks angry, turning belligerent from one second to the next.
"For Christ's sake," he says. "Relax, I've got the receipt."
"What's that supposed to mean?" I ask.
"That I didn't steal it," he says.
"I never said you stole it," I say.
"No, but that's what you think, I know it is," he says.
I look at him, saying nothing. I'm not sure whether he actually has stolen the chain, it could be that he stole some money and bought it with that, I don't know, but at any rate he's hiding something, that much I can tell. He stares straight at me and I see how he's working himself up, he probably thinks he'll seem more innocent if he gets himself all worked up, tries to kid me into believing that he's innocent by acting all angry and hurt.
"Here, see for yourself if you don't believe me," he yells and he plants his feet on the floor of the car, lifts his butt slightly, sticks his hand in his back pocket and pulls out a slip of paper. "See," he says, holding out a receipt to me: Ofstad's Jewelers, 1,499 kroner, it says. I read it again then I look at him.
"Fifteen hundred kroner?" I say. "And where did you get fifteen hundred kroner? You didn't even have the price of the bus fare into town yesterday."
Silence for a moment, then:
"For fuck's sake! I borrowed it from Benjamin!" he snaps, spitting the words out, and then he sits there and looks at me, sits there with his mouth hanging open, shaking his head, trying to look as though there's no earthly reason to doubt his word. I don't say anything for a minute, just hold his eye. Don't know how much pressure I ought to put on him, either, I must be close to acting and sounding like I'm his father, and I know how he reacts if he thinks I'm trying to take over his dad's responsibilities, nothing gets his back up as much as that, so I have to be a bit careful. But still, I can't let him get away with it either, I'd be doing him no favors if I did.
"Okay," I say, placing my hand over the seat-belt buckle. "I don't like you owing somebody so much money. Come on, let's go see Benjamin, I'll pay him back for you." I nod towards the steps at the back of the shopping center.
I look at Jørgen and Jørgen looks at me for a second, then he seems to accept that he's been found out, he doesn't say anything, simply turns away and sits there looking sullen. I don't say anything right away either. I almost feel a little sorry for him, he's so desperate to be "streetwise" as he calls it, to come across as being so smart and hard to fool, and yet he's this easily found out. I run a hand over my head and sigh, sit for a second or two, then I press down the clutch, put the car into first gear and pull away, hear the faint rattle of the trailer as I run over the speed bumps in the parking lot.
"So — I take it you've been selling something you shouldn't have. Again. Am I right?" I say, with a resigned, almost weary note in my voice. I turn to look at him. He doesn't say anything, just sits there, sullen-faced, he doesn't deny it and I realize that I've guessed right, realize that he's been selling drugs for some of his older mates again.
"And what do you expect me to tell your mother now, eh?" I ask.
"I don't give a shit what you tell her," he snarls.
"Oh yeah?" I say. "Well, you can take it from me that she gives a shit about what I say."
"The fuck I care," he says.
"Humph," I mutter. "And you'd been doing so well lately. Don't you realize how disappointed she's going to be?"
"Well, don't tell her then," he says. I stop at the junction, shoot a glance at him before turning out onto Gullvikvegen, face the road again.
"Trying to shift the responsibility onto me now, are you?" I ask.
"I might be the one who has to tell her what you've done, but it's you that's letting her down," I say.
He says nothing for a moment, only sits there glaring through the windshield. A gang of workers from the Highway Department is paving the road just before the roundabout at Vulken Maritime so I brake to a halt, there's a string of cars coming towards us so we'll just to wait a bit. I prop my head on my left hand and sit like that watching the road workers, it's so hot they've taken off their shirts; they're working stripped to the waist, shoveling and raking out the smoking black asphalt in just their orange work pants.
"Like it was any of your business, anyway," Jørgen mumbles.
"Jørgen, come on," I say, looking at him.
"You're not my dad," he says.
"I know that."
"So why d'you act like you were?"
"Jørgen, your mom and I are together, you live in my house, don't you think I have a right to set a few rules?"
"D'you think I'm gonna put up with all kinds of shit from you just 'cause you happen to own the house I live in?" he breaks in.
I shut my eyes for a fraction of a second, then open them again. I've heard all of this so many times that I practically know it by heart. I raise my eyebrows and sigh.
"No, I don't think that. And to be honest, I don't think I give you that much shit, anyway."
"Like I even want to live in your rotten house," he mutters.
"Jørgen, I know ..."
"Like fuck you do," he breaks in. "You don't know what it's like, living way out in the sticks when all your friends are in town."
"There's nothing stopping you from making new friends on Otterøya, you know."
"But there isn't."
"Jesus Christ, can you see me in one of those green overalls with 'Co-op' on the back?" he asks.
"Name me a single kid of your age on Otterøya that goes about in green overalls with 'Co-op' on the back," I say. I drive on, move into the left-hand lane and past the road workers. Their voices grow louder and I catch a whiff of fresh, hot asphalt as we go by.
"Well, maybe not," Jørgen says. "But they're all just a bunch of hicks out there, that's the point. Don't you get it?" he says, scowling.
"If you ever tried to get to know some of them I think you might find they're not as different from you as you imagine."
Silence for a few moments.
I shift from second to third and put my foot down as we drive out of the roundabout, shift from third to fourth and accelerate even more as we drive into the Vika tunnel.
"Everybody else moves from there into town, but Mom and I did the exact opposite," Jørgen goes on. "I wonder why," he says, feigning puzzlement in a way designed to make it quite clear that he already knows the answer to that question. "Could it have had anything to do with Mom wanting to keep me away from Dad, do you think?" he asks, then he pauses for a moment before turning towards me and making an attempt at a sneer. "You don't think Mom really loves you either," he goes on. "You know we only moved in with you because she wants to keep me away from Dad. And my friends, of course," he adds.
I don't say anything right away, should maybe be mad at him for being so out of order, but I'm not, it's so far over the top that I can't quite bring myself to get worked up about it, just feel a bit sick of the whole thing. We drive out of the tunnel and along the stretch past the Bråten Ski Center, see the warm air shimmering above the gray asphalt up ahead.
"Not everything has to do with you, Jørgen," I say.
"No, but this does," he retorts.
I'm about to say that his mom and I actually decided to have Daniel after the two of them moved in with me, but I don't, I'm not going to be drawn into a stupid discussion about how much his mom and I love each other, you have to draw the line somewhere.
"I know you'd like me to get mad at you," I say. "But it's not going to work, so you might as well forget about it," I add.
"Why the fuck would I want to make you mad?"
"Maybe because you'd like to go on believing that I've got something against you," I say.
"What the fuck's that supposed to mean?"
I don't answer right away because I know what's going through his head. He feels he'll be letting his dad down if he likes me, so he needs to tell himself that we don't get along, that's why he always has to try to provoke me, do his best to make me mad. He tries to stir up trouble, start arguments, so he won't have to like me. I turn, about to say this to him, but I stop myself, best keep his dad out of all this, for Jørgen's sake if nothing else. I turn to face the road again.
"Playing the shrink now, are you?" he says.
"All I'm saying is that I've got nothing against you," I say. "In fact I really like you."
"As if you could say anything else, when you're living with my mother," he says.
"Jørgen, hey, I like you," I say again. "I like you so much that it scares me when you screw things up for yourself the way you do."
"Well, if you've nothing against me why d'you make fun of my style?"
"But I don't."
"Oh, no? So that comment about the Bronx was just my imagination, was it? And all that talk about how baggy my trousers are, and how you can see half my backside and all that — is that just my imagination too?"
"But I'm just pulling your leg, you know that, don't you?"
"Pulling my leg," he snorts. "You're making fun of me, and I'm fucking sick of it!"
I look at him, say nothing for a moment, he doesn't think I'm making fun of him, I know he doesn't, I realize he's only saying this because he has to get at me somehow for confronting him on the thieving and selling hash. I found him out and now he needs to pay me back, to go on the attack, so he grasps at a silly little thing like this.
"Okay," I say, "then we've misunderstood each other. I thought you knew I was kidding, but you didn't, so I'll stop it," I say, as good as admitting that I've spoken and acted out of turn too. It's probably best, that way he might not feel quite so humiliated. "Sorry," I add, look across at him, but he doesn't even glance at me, just sits there with a face like thunder. He's probably dreading what Helen's going to say when she hears he's screwed things up for himself again. There's silence. I drive past the Vemundvik junction, up, over and down the hill and out onto the Lokkar bridge, drive with one hand on the wheel and the other out the window, feel the wind rushing along my bare forearm and up inside my shirt sleeve. I smell the sea. I look out of the side window and across the sparkling blue fjord. It's a glorious day, the sun shining and the water like glass.
I shoot a glance at Jørgen as we drive across the bridge and onto the island.
"Want a smoke?" I ask, pulling the pack of tobacco out of my breast pocket and handing it to him. Don't really know why I do this, neither Helen nor his dad has anything against him smoking and I know he's inhaled a lot worse things, but even so, I'm not in the habit of offering him cigarettes.
"So now all of a sudden you want to be friends?"
"Aw, come on, Jørgen," I say, giving a little sigh.
"You can't get around me just by offering me a cig, if that's what you think."
"D'you want to roll yourself one or not?" I ask, eyes on the road as I say it, then I turn to look at Jørgen again. He sits for a moment more, still with a face like thunder, then he takes the tobacco pack from me. "Roll one for me as well, will you please?" is all I say. I can't be bothered arguing, there's no point. If I'm going to help Jørgen change his ways there's only one thing to do and that is to behave much as I'd like him to behave, to set a good example, it's the only way. If we just stay calm and speak nicely he'll gradually learn to do the same. I only hope Helen can stay calm when she hears that Jørgen has screwed up again, that she manages to talk to him instead of freaking out and threatening him with everything under the sun. There's no telling how she'll react, one day she can shrug off something that other people would call a disaster, the next she can throw a fit over the slightest thing, it depends on how she's feeling, mentally and physically. Whether she's been in a lot of pain or not.
Excerpted from "Encircling 2 Origins"
Copyright © 2010 Carl Frode Tiller.
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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