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by Dorthe Nors ; translated by Misha Hoekstra

Pub Date: June 21st, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-55597-742-9
Publisher: Graywolf

These two novellas present an edgy evocation of contemporary life.

Nors is a creator of small spaces; her fiction is relentless, edgy, brief. The Danish writer’s collection Karate Chop (2014) gathered 15 stories in 88 pages: work marked by sudden turns through which characters must come to grips with the unexamined assumptions of their lives. Nors aspires to something similar with her new book, which brings together a pair of novellas, although we may as well call them extended prose poems. In the first, Minna Needs Rehearsal Space, she uses short declarative sentences—each framed as a single paragraph—to tell the story of a composer who desires nothing more than a kind of lasting silence, while the second, Days, comes framed as a succession of lists. The idea is to deconstruct, or rewire, narrative by stripping away excess detail in favor of something closer to pure consciousness. Yet lest this sound off-putting or difficult, it couldn’t be more accessible. The key is Nors’ specificity, which roots us in the lives she reveals. “Minna walks around among ordinary people,” she writes. "Ordinary people cheat on their taxes. / Ordinary people go to swinger clubs. / Ordinary people flee the scene of the crime." What Nors is after is the peculiar anomie of contemporary living, in which despite being constantly in touch with one another, we have never been further apart. As a consequence, we are often disconnected, separated by distances that seem impossible to bridge. All that's left to us are the smallest details, which become the lens through which we reckon with ourselves. “1. Woke an hour early,” explains the narrator of Days. “2. made instant coffee, / 3. drank it, / 4. stood by my kitchen window the same way I stood by my kitchen window when I lived on the island of Fanø and went down to the beach every day and crushed razor shells underfoot: Why do I live here? I’d wondered / 5. and couldn’t have known that one day I would stand in a flat in Valby and look at the crooked tulips in the backyard and wonder the same thing.”

In these novellas, people never really know each other, which means they must take their consolations where they can.