Sheldon Horowitz has spent the last sixty years carrying the weight of guilt and anger. He was too young to enlist during World War II. His son died during his second tour in Vietnam—a war Sheldon encouraged him to sign up for. He did his best with his granddaughter, but Sheldon’s wife has passed on. Now that he lives in Oslo with his granddaughter and her husband, there’s not much left for Sheldon to do. At least, that’s what he thinks, until he gets one more chance to be a hero and redeem himself in Derek B. Miller’s Norwegian by Night.
Sheldon’s wife told his granddaughter, Rhea, that Sheldon was starting to go senile. After his son’s death, Sheldon started to claim that he was a sniper in the Korean War and not a file clerk. And Sheldon sometimes talks to the man who owned the pawn shop across the way from his watch shop—except Bill has been dead for forty years. Still, Sheldon insists that he’s not senile, thank you very much. He’s not very happy about living in Norway, either, but there’s nothing and no one left for him in the United States. So, here he is, in the Tøyen neighborhood, listening to their neighbors fight and argue, and resenting the hell out it all.
All this changes when Sheldon opens the door for the desperate woman who lives in the upstairs flat. The fights she’s been having have turned deadly serious. It’s clear she’s looking for a refuge for herself and her son. Sheldon opens the door for her, but the bad guy follows. Sheldon is able to shelter the woman’s son, but she is murdered. Sheldon flees with the boy, soon dubbed Paul, and lights out for the territory.
Sheldon’s simple act of bravery leads a chase that involves Kosovar war criminals and the Norwegian police. His old training as, yes, a Marine sniper starts to come back to him. Even though he’s an 82 year old man with arthritis, Sheldon is still wily.
As the chase unfolds, we learn more about the burdens Sheldon has placed on himself. Norwegian by Night is a tragic but redemptive portrait of an old war veteran. At times, it does seem that Miller has stuffed his novel too full of other characters. The narrative occasionally jumps to Rhea’s perspective, the perspective of the police inspector who is trying to solve the murder, and even the perspective of some of the Kosovars chasing Sheldon and Paul.
I wonder what this novel might have been if we had only been traveling along with Sheldon. He’s the real star of this book. When the narrative shifts focus, Norwegian by Night veers into thriller territory rather than literary fiction territory. Such a blend can work, but the genres seem like uneasy bedfellows here.