Recommendation: Like the moon in daylight: familiar, but entirely new. Any reader who has ever wondered how spring could come on so stubbornly (figuratively, literally, or both) will see themselves here, expressed with a newness like the night.
Dorthe Nors writes like a snowstorm.
That alone would be a totally serviceable review of So Much for That Winter, but today, as ever, self-regard is getting in the way of brevity. So let me stretch the thought further:
It snowed this morning–fat snowflakes floating under pre-dawn streetlights, in no hurry at all, turn brisk walks to trudges; bring traffic to a standstill; resist, it seems, the sharp pull of gravity. Snow slows down the world more effectively than any other kind of weather, and, in so doing, freezes my distractions (or perhaps only clarifies them: makes them shine, sharp and sturdy). Snow forces my attention upon it, upon the roads and mailboxes and front steps where it lands, and–eventually–upon myself. It accumulates, undetected, until I find myself in a blissful paralysis, my mind all still and stillness, and the trees–branches heavy with snow–crack and shatter all the questions I’d thought I was supposed to ask.
The familiar became less so, and spoke.
- Gave my secrets a good going-over,
- and I haven’t given up hope, I still believe that things can open and become soft and alive, German bunkers, Berlin walls, abandoned abattoirs, it’s only a question of time and it’s all well in the end, I thought in line at the grocer’s
“Days”, the second novella in So Much for That Winter, does similar work. I have written before both about novellas and about Graywolf’s masterfully-curated English translations of international literature, but while my affection for each is no secret, the effect “Days” has on me goes far beyond that.
Both of the stories in So Much for That Winter are breakup narratives. Both break-ups are of the sort that rattle the foundations of our lives, answering unpleasant questions that we never even asked. The first novella, “Minna Needs Rehearsal Space”, is a well-written: it is surprising; often fun and sometimes tragic; a well-observed encounter with a mind in trouble. Minna responds to the breakup by travelling–taking a train to the sea and using an emptier geography to practice her art.
In comparison, the action of “Days” is hardly action at all. Rather than being driven by pulse-pounding adrenaline, catastrophe, or narrative surprise, “Days” is an opportunity to sit with the world and the feeling of living in a world with restaurants and graveyards and bicycles and dogs. Where we are told of Minna’s trauma in an almost-clinical, fact-oriented voice, the grief in “Days” is visible, palpable–oriented around the common resonances of a choir of everyday objects.
The careful cordoning off of clauses–pitched by marketers as “a cheeky nod to the listicles…we scroll through on a daily basis”–serves as a tool of attention, breaking up winding sentences and bringing emptiness into the work like the line breaks of a poem. Each of Nors’ expertly crafted images is so concrete and evocative that I can’t help but believe that perhaps language has some efficacy after all, and in this form, each image is allowed its space and its breath as we tour through the mush and quagmire of daily life.
I am still a little breathless. Nors’ evocations of melancholy sting like the needles of a fir, and in comparison the steady solidity of physical objects is an unadulterated pleasure that feels almost as warm as hope. And here is the key thing: though these are stories of shattering breakups, well, there is the lake, and there is the cemetery, and there, cinquefoil. The world persists, even through shortening days and icy nights. And perhaps it’s as our narrator says:
I’m angry, and not everything is art.
But persisting–continuing to hope, despite evidence to the contrary–that might be an art.
- so forget it,
- forget the view that day across the canal,
- forget the winter-gray roofs,
- the way the mitten got snagged on the banister,
- the hoarfrost and the sort of things that remain,
- shrug it off, forget it,
- the injustice of it all,
- for now it is spring.