Review: Wild Swims by Dorthe Nors

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Synopsis:

A dazzling return to the short story by a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize

In fourteen effervescent stories, Dorthe Nors plumbs the depths of the human heart, from desire to melancholy and everything in between. Just as she did in her English-language debut, Karate Chop, Nors slices straight to the core of the conflict in only a few pages. But Wild Swims expands the borders of her gaze, following people as they travel through Copenhagen, London, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and elsewhere.

Here are portraits of men and women full of restless longing, people who are often seeking a home but rarely finding it. A lie told during a fraught ferry ride on the North Sea becomes a wound that festers between school friends. A writer at a remote cabin befriends the mother of an ex-lover. Two friends knock doors to solicit fraudulent donations for the cancer society. A woman taken with the idea of wild swims ventures as far as the local swimming pool.

These stories have already been featured in the pages of New YorkerHarper’s MagazineTin House, and A Public Space. They sound the darker tones of human nature and yet find the brighter chords of hope and humor as well. Cutting and offbeat without ever losing its warmth, Wild Swims is a master class in concision and restraint, and a path to living life without either. With Wild Swims Nors’s star will continue to be ascendant.

Review:

Dorthe Nors writing is something to behold. Every one of her works is very slim, compact, and engaging. Her newest collection of short stories is fourteen stories in 124 pages, each story lasting about six or eight pages. And each story knocked me upside the head. Nors is a Danish writer who has had some buzz, mostly around her short story collection Karate Chop, and honestly any accolades and praise is well deserved.

I have never read a collection like Wild Swims. All of these stories are so short, and they also feel like rumors. Nors writes fantastic scenes but she doesn’t tell the reader everything. For example, in the opening story, In a Deer Stand, the unnamed main character has fled his house and is hiding in a stranger’s tree stand. There is no real explanation of why he is running from his house, but there are indications, like his wife not being liked by his family, like the relationship of Lissette with the family, and if the whole running from the house has something to do with the relationship between the male character and Lissette (which could be implied, but it’s the reader who is doing the implying.) With many of these stories, I can come with the interpretation of the action, that the main character is running from his wife because she found out about an affair between Lissette and him, but this is me drawing the conclusions, not something that is on the page. And this is every one of the stories in this collection. Dorthe Nors gives us whispers, and our own interpretation of these whispers is how the story is formed. 

The writing and translation by Misha Hoekstra is impressive in another way as well. Nors likes to switch between the softness of nature and the hardness of city life, going back and forth between the two sometimes within the same paragraph. Returning to the first story, the main character’s sitting in the tree stand as dusk is settling in. He thinks about wolves while also thinking about his home and marriage. The two do not seem connected but they are, and this connection happens throughout these stories. 


I know I have talked mostly about the first story, but there is so much to talk about in this story. This story is also four pages long. There are so many amazing stories throughout this collection, and all of them are so impressive that I could talk at length about any of them, making up some of the impressions that I received while reading them, impressions that could be different to any other reader. Usually I struggle through short story collections, but Wild Swims is so spellbinding that I read it all in one sitting, wondering the whole time if I can even writing anything as amazing as this. The result is that every single story is masterful, and I cannot think of ever reading a single author story collection as impressive as this one. I will be rereading stories in this collection repeatedly. Just to try to figure out how Dorthe Nors writes with so much magic.

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