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The Dog, the Thief, the Prisoner--and the Woman : ADAM'S DIARY by Knut Faldbakken; translated and with an afterword by Sverre Lyngstad (University of Nebraska Press: $23.95, cloth; $12.95, paper; 246 pp.)

February 14, 1988|Ursula Hegi | Hegi is the author of "Intrusions" and "Unearned Pleasures and Other Stories" (forthcoming in April, 1988). She directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Eastern Washington University. and

Knut Faldbakken's dark and brilliant novel mirrors contemporary relationships in which power has taken the place of love. Continued communication between men and women is impossible in "Adam's Diary," which was first published in Norway in 1978 and won the Riksmal Prize.

The novel consists of consecutive narratives by three men who want and despise the same woman. Though the woman is only seen through the perspectives of the men, she emerges as a surprisingly complex character.

Faldbakken gives his narrators traits that place them in the categories of thief, dog and prisoner; yet, their characterization transcends the psychological analysis of personality types.

Except for the dog, Per Kristian, Payk, the major characters in "Adam's Diary" are nameless. The dog is the most vulnerable of the men; he has the courage to take emotional risks but is destroyed by his dependency. Obsessive in his love for the woman, he seeks validation of his self through her.

Bound to her in an "eternal and unbreakable relationship of dependency," he feels grateful when she pays attention to him, yet has the insight to recognize his behavior as slavish: "A dog's psychology is strange: The more he's whipped, the more faithfully and devotedly he behaves toward his master." He barks, yowls, whimpers, begs, and doesn't understand why the things she liked about him--his sensitivity, youth, and tolerance--now repel her. "To make her happy had become my paramount principle. . . . Sometimes she'd be quite annoyed at my attention. . . . I even went too far in my tenderness." He survives on the hope that she will leave the thief.

Intelligent and sensitive, the dog is in the tragic position of understanding that the relationship is unhealthy, but he is too dependent to find the strength to extricate himself.

Faldbakken's thief feels an "intoxicating power" over the people he steals from who "have left their essence behind so that I can touch it, feel close to it." He even refers to his feelings for them as love. All of his emotional needs are met by his stealing. "Thieves are dreamers. . . . A thief must have self-discipline; he must know his limitations or he'll overreach himself. But he can dream."

A lonely man by choice, he prides himself on his skills, his high level of professionalism. He keeps himself outside of society, yet penetrates it through his thefts. Power and love are the same for him; his moments of tenderness are connected to things, not people.

He is interested in the woman because he can steal her from the dog. Emotionally withdrawn, he likes to escape into the role of thief where he feels in control; yet, when he begins to need the woman, he loses that control. Her love becomes a burden. He misses the chase, "the suspense, the fear, and the thief's triumph--though this is what I've wanted, to reduce her to this state. . . . Because once you get there, it's over." At times, the thief imagery becomes heavy-handed--he sees the thief in everyone.

The prisoner is the woman's former husband who attacks her when she steals their young daughter from him. In prison, he begins to question the whole concept of freedom. A successful athlete and businessman, he realizes he never felt free before he entered prison, a "new and abnormal world" that "has always been only a short distance from the prisoner's own . . . it's his recognition, rather than the strangeness, that strikes him with an obscure fear."

He adjusts to prison life with alarming speed, escaping into romance and fantasies as he becomes the trainer for a young guard who wants to be an athlete. Humiliated when he realizes the guard doesn't want his love, he directs his anger and aggression toward the first available woman in a fit of destruction and self-destruction.

Faldbakken, whose first novel, "The Gray Rainbow," was published 20 years ago, presents "Adam's Diary" in layers: The same incidents are seen through different perspectives, lending them entirely different nuances. His narrators' voices are distinct. The world they live in is flawed, and they enter relationships that become destructive.

"Adam's Diary" is an unsettling and relentless novel in which choices are illusions, dictated by rules that are set by a society that is addicted to its own destruction, a society that sees addictive behavior as normal.

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