Sometimes this blurring of when and where brings about confusion that might not be intentional. And the framing tale set in 1989 lacks the cumulative power and focus that Petterson brought to a previous incarnation of Arvid, his alter ego, in the 2002 novel In the Wake. But though the flashback-within-a-flashback-within-a-flashback structure can get a little unwieldy, Petterson couples a Hemingway-esque spareness of diction with a Faulknerian complexity of syntax to keep it all afloat. That makes for a lot of run-on sentences strung together with "and," a lot of detailed descriptions of qualities of light and the nuances of odors, and a lot of cigarette smoking. But at its best, the prose is incantatory, evoking the beauty of the seemingly infinite moment, and how impossible it is "to grasp that in the end something as fine as this could be ground into dust."

PER PETTERSON | Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard St, Brookline | September 16 at 6 pm | $5 | 617.566.6660 or brooklinebooksmith.com

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