Wednesday, May 3, 2017

SO MUCH FOR THAT WINTER, Danish author Nors's English-language debut

(tr. Misha Hoekstra)
Graywolf Press
$15 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Dorthe Nors follows up her acclaimed story collection Karate Chop with a pair of novellas that playfully chart the aftermath of two very twenty-first century romances. In “Days,” a woman in her late thirties records her life in a series of lists, giving shape to the tumult of her days—one moment she is eating an apple, the next she is on the floor, howling like a dog. As the details accumulate, we experience with her the full range of emotions: anger, loneliness, regret, pain, and also joy, as the lists become a way to understand, connect to, and rebuild her life.

In “Minna Needs Rehearsal Space,” a novella told in headlines, an avant-garde musician is dumped via text message. Fleeing the indignity of the breakup, and friends who flaunt their achievements in life, career, and family, Minna unfriends people on Facebook, listens to Bach and reads Ingmar Bergman then decamps to an island near Sweden “well suited to mental catharsis.” A cheeky nod to the listicles and bulletins we scroll through on a daily basis, So Much for That Winter explores how we shape and understand experience, and the disconnection and dislocation that define our twenty-first-century lives, with Nors’s unique wit and humor.


My Review: How a perfectly rational North American running at full tilt towards the last full decade of his life is seduced by a Danish lady of middling vintage into going all experimental and experiential with his reading. Using, as always, the Bryce Method to discuss the pieces' merits one at a time:

Minna Needs Rehearsal Space doesn't she. I think Minna's major problem is that she can't see or hear herself anymore. I think Minna needs about a year away from her surface-obsessed life to get back to what is underneath the headlines. Minna can't be arsed to try to move on from the indignity of being dumped via text message? What makes you so special, sunshine, that you're immune from the rage and outrage that accompanies any and all intermingling of XX and YX persons?

Even her career, avant-garde musician, tells you that she's been to Paradise but she's never been to me. Charlene whinged those words in 1977! I don't know Author Nors, but I'm sure that as she's a Dane she wasn't listening to US pop music in 1977. Maybe she should go back and fill in a blank in her world experience!

(In case it needs saying out loud, the above isn't meant to be serious but rather to point out how very different Author is from deep and deadly, the other shallow and affectless.)

I know that A Public Space has always been deeply committed to women's writing, and I laud them for it. This translation is well inside their wheelhouse as Author Nors presents us with a tale that could only be told by a woman about a woman. Minna is a collection of headlines; Minna is without internal awareness; Minna has just been dumped via text message.

So why does Minna crash so heavily, so thoroughly massively, into a male brain.

Days gives us numbered lists of quotidian activities and thoughts, a step-by-step way to say "this is what life is: First this, then that, and don't ever stop because lists that end are thrown away."
10. Took in the bottle of wine the neighbor had placed on my mat:
11. Excuse the noise, Love, Majbritt, it said; so that's her name, I thought,
12. and set the bottle on top of the fridge,
13. moved it under the sink,
14. I'll drink it for Pentecost,
15. for Pentecost when I'm happy,
16. really happy.
The entire point of reading these lists, these discrete and atomized moments, is to understand that life, Life, isn't what we thought it was. It isn't a film. It's the filming script. It's the continuity book without the costume shots.
16. Chopped lettuce without cutting my finger
17. and decided that perhaps in time something good
would happen. I do know that something will, I know
it, like when you're riding a train across Zealand in
18. darkness darkness darkness darkness
19 and then suddenly a greenhouse crackling warm
20. in the middle of it all.
So why, you ask me, is this not poetry, what makes this prose, how arbitrary is the line, why do you insist you don't like poetry and this feels pretty much like poetry. You're telling me, I hear you thinking, you like this and you don't like poetry but WHY isn't this poetry.

All I can tell you without getting into formal discussions that I don't have the credentials for or interest in is that it's clearly the prose side of the Great Divide. I know lots of energy goes into the "debate" between poetry fans (the aggressors) and the poetry atheists (me) to establish that I am wrong and poetry is wonderful. So stipulated, your honors.

I still don't like poetry. I still like Dorthe Nors's prose.

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