KARATE CHOP by Dorthe Nors


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The first English publication of this Danish author of five novels consists of 15 oblique, very short stories, many of them about isolated people struggling to connect.

A depressed actress abandons the artifice of Copenhagen, searching for authenticity in a remote part of the country to dissipate her psychological fog, but she ends up in a literal one ("The Wadden Sea"). The 35-year-old in "She Frequented Cemeteries" may have met the man of her dreams, or she may be living in a fantasy world; Nors artfully leaves both possibilities open. Annelise, in the title story, makes bad choices with men, ignoring red flags, but her revenge on the sexual sadist Carl Erik is a last-sentence shocker. The disturbed female narrator of "The Heron" has given up on human contact; she would settle for proximity to a tame bird. These stories are, in varying degrees, arresting. "Flight," which contrasts actual and metaphorical space as it sketches a woman after a breakup, is more banal, as is "The Winter Garden": Here, after his parents’ divorce, their self-possessed son realizes his dad is the truly needy one. Not all the stories adhere to this isolation/connection model. "The Big Tomato," set in Manhattan, pokes fun at excess. A wealthy Danish couple, expats, receives a 4-pound tomato from their online grocer, to the bemusement of their Mexican cleaner and Albanian laundryman on the other side of the class divide. Another New York story, "Nat Newsom," is much darker. The eponymous Nat, a panhandler, retains his optimism despite physical handicaps and hard knocks. A Columbia professor, researching naïveté, eyes him as a subject, then contemptuously dismisses him as “too odd.” It’s a chilling look at the academic hustle. Nors is just as mordant in her treatment of a self-aggrandizing charlatan who reinvents himself as a Buddhist to become head of an aid organization, which he then rips off ("The Buddhist").

These amuse-bouches are a fine introduction to the author's work.

Pub Date: Feb. 4th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-55597-665-1
Page count: 112pp
Publisher: Graywolf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2013


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