A Review of Dorthe Nors’ So Much for That Winter
by Hannah Rahimi
Cynicism and hope jostle for position in Dorthe Nors’ new pair of novellas, as Nors addresses crucial questions of contemporary existence with great humor and humanity. In “Minna Needs Rehearsal Space,” an avant-garde musician is torn between a need for creative solitude and a desire to connect, easily menaced by the brash reality of adult life—a smug mothers’ group, a narcissistic ex-lover, an overbearing sister, and acquaintances whose attachments and demands take on parasitic proportions. Her artistic temperament renders her particularly vulnerable to the callousness of contemporary dealings, whereby relationships dissolve with the click of a mouse:
Minna’s got a lot to fight.
Lars has deleted her.
Minna is no longer friends with Lars.
Lars has spoken.
Nors’ gaze is intimate and unflinching as she examines the isolation that arises from a plugged-in world. With language pared to the bone, she delivers the story in a list of short announcements that recall the terseness of status updates, at times to bleak effect:
Minna has no child.
Minna can’t let herself say anything.
Minna’s not home free.
Minna once won a prize for some chamber music.
Minna would rather have gotten a license to live.
The form serves not only to highlight existential struggle, but to suggest a capacity for transformation. Just as Minna composes tonal rows, Nors treats each line as a unit in a larger sequence, charting the accumulation of moments to reveal an underlying mutability to life over time. Herein lies optimism, as dullness and despair resolve occasionally into joy: Minna develops a sudden “asshole filter,” or rediscovers her singing voice on a deserted rock in Bornholm. While these moments of release are fleeting and far between, they are enough to ease the strain, sustain the journey, and propel the list onwards.
In “Days,” Nors again measures the oscillation between despair and joy, and the ever-shifting line between productive solitude and unbearable loneliness, this time through a series of numbered lists. The narrator makes her way through a life of everyday objects and routines, jogging and tripping and getting caught in the rain, drinking coffee and eating ice cream in the park and rubbing the skins off new potatoes. The sentences stack up and the lists accumulate to establish the pattern of an ordinary life, made manageable and even meaningful through the very act of recording it. A writer herself, the narrator cultivates a precarious and necessary faith in the continued flux of her emotional life, locating vitality in the dips and peaks that shape her daily experience, at once particular and deeply familiar:
- Felt tired,
- let things lie beside each other—
- the frying pan, the dishrag, the joy, together with the insecurity and the French press; the shoes; the being inside but outside, unseen, but discovered; the being hurt and the recovering, present, smarter, potentially happy, and entangled in will; and the dish towel—everything coordinated with a little prayer:
- Have patience and confidence until the end.
160 pages, $15.00