Page 45 Review by Stephen
A young man journeys across a flat and often featureless wilderness, with no destination in mind or sight. He'd like a destination in mind - any clue as to where he's supposed to be going, and whether he will know when he gets there - but the stuffed teddy bear he carries on his back cannot provide the answers he seeks. He treats the bear, a relic of earlier, simpler days, as you might do a dog: as a confidant, as a creature to unburden your troubles upon when there's no one else to share them with, as if externalising your internal thoughts takes the weight somehow off them, which it can. It's a method of coping.
The environment is bleak enough, but then a snow storm provides further hardship to struggle against, yet struggle on he does. The only humans he meets shoot at him, either tauntingly with their hands from a swiftly passing coach, or actually as he stumbles upon a village ravaged by war. There's a dog lying dead in the wreck of a house, and a helicopter pilot, shot down by unnamed enemy forces, is close to death himself beside an endless industrial pipeline.
Intercut with these surreal episodes are fragments of a parallel dream in which the protagonist is stranded in a boat in the middle of an ocean, sometimes without an oar or at other times without a motor or the keys with which to start it. Just as he determines to paddle by hand, an enormous tanker looms into view, the implied threat confirmed in other sequences as the boy floats helplessly in the cold blue depths under the rowing boat's shattered remains.
Everything, of course, is a matter of interpretation - ambiguity plays a substantial part in Nilsen's works - but if all that doesn't speak to you about your own life, at some point or some extent or another, then you're a stronger individual than myself. There is, of course, hope, which lies in the pack of dogs that adopt and shelter him, like the friendships that help us in a life through which we at least partially travel alone, for it's emphatically not a defeatist piece, but a poignant allegory of not merely enduring but forging on as best you can in the wake of adversity and without any certainty of success.
It's haunting and ethereal and full of wide open spaces, Nilsen choosing to position his thin, vulnerable lines and delicately delineated no-man's land on the thick paper page without the constraints of borders. This isn't the story's first appearance, but a welcome archival edition which it so richly deserves, with a quality paper stock within a jacketless hardcover.