Wild Swims

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Title: Wild Swims (original title: Kort Over Canada)

Writer: Dorthe Nors (translated by Misha Hoekstra)

Publishing House: Graywolf Press

Date of Publication:  February 2nd 2021 (first published April 23rd 2018)

Rating: 5 stars

‘’Both fairground and field have been baking all day in the late-summer sun. It’s September now, and when she walks around the field, the stubble scratches her ankles. But now she’s standing still, in her trench coat and clogs. The moon’s on the rise too.’’

In 14 stories, set in Denmark, Norway, England, Canada and the USA, Dorthe Nors explores the entire spectrum of the human soul with exquisite clarity, and a wondrous mixture of compassion and honesty. These aren’t extraordinary people put in extreme situations. They are women and men that have loved and hated, believed and expected. They are people who found themselves longing for the ‘wrong’ person while trying to hide their own secrets. They have been disappointed, they have tried to reverse popular opinions, they have encountered the repercussions of their choices and acts. They are wanderers without a clear destination. These characters are us.

‘’Last night there was screeching in the forest.’’

‘’A mist has risen, the night will be cold, and a wolf has been sighted.’’

In A Deer Stand: A sad, haunting story of the slow disintegration of a marriage due to stubbornness, indifference and coldness.

Sun Dogs: A writer who has been trying to cope with a complex relationship meets her lover’s mother. An atmospheric, melancholic story of unspoken confessions and understanding.

Hygge: This one was quite an experience…A date between two rather ridiculous individuals goes wrong. ‘’Hygge’’? No, not quite…

By Sydvest Station: Two young women are knocking on doors and ringing bells for a (fraudulent) errant. But one of them is walking around with a broken heart and a ticking clock and you never know what might happen when you knock on a stranger’s door. An astonishing story, eerie and unsettling.

‘’Even the Mississippi has to start somewhere.’’

Between Offices: A man travelling between states and offices remembers his childhood and is haunted by the presence of a vicious bird. A cryptic, memorable story in a collection where gems come in abundance.

The Fairground: An early-autumn fairground becomes the setting for a woman’s musing on love and broken trust. There is a deep sadness permeating this story and Nors’s writing is heartbreakingly beautiful.

Compaction Birds: A widower finds himself in the company of his lover’s family and the summer night makes him ponder on his choices. The last two paragraphs are a literary dream.

‘’But do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?’’

Pershing Square: In downtown Los Angeles, a woman contemplates men’s views on intelligent women and decides she has had enough. Pershing Square becomes the stage of a play starring people from all walks of life in a society where it is very easy to become an outcast.

Honeysuckle: Where to begin with this story and how can I express its eerie beauty? A tale of summer colours, of honeysuckle and the hazy, late-afternoon light, of desire, of men who believe they have the right to define a woman’s identity, of women who conform.

‘’When mother died, a robin appeared at the feeder. It kept coming back that entire winter. It was Mother who was visiting me.’’

On Narrow Paved Paths: In elegant sarcasm and spot-on, bitter irony, Dorthe Nors describes the last days of Einar, who is about to be defeated by cancer, and his neighbours’ strenuous efforts to be ‘’useful’’. But they are far from ‘’useful’’ and far from compassionate. And Einar offers his broken body to the sad vultures.

Inside St. Paul’s: A man visits St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Next to the tomb of Lord Nelson, he surrenders himself to memories of childhood, innocence and his marriage as it once was. Sad, tangible, haunting.

The Freezer Chest: It feels divinely good when you shove every past (and present) insult down a filthy bully’s throat, no matter what his ‘’fangirls’’ say. And nothing should ever be forgotten. Or forgiven.

‘’There’s a faint glow behind the maple, but it’s probably no one. The road is wet, drizzle, they’re sleeping now. It’s one in the morning, and he can see his face indistinctly in the living room window.’’

Manitoba: A man who has left his secrets in Denmark (or has he?) is residing in a summer house close to a camping spot near Manitoba. The youngsters and the nosy neighbours do little to leave him in peace.

‘’In the evening, the heat hung heavy in the apartment. I sat down on the floor in my underwear, closed my eyes. Down on the street the ambulances drove to and fro, but I’ve learned not to chase sirens anymore.’’

‘’I went for a walk, out towards the big houses around Carlsberg. The front yards there smelled of elder and peony, and it’s good to walk at night.’’

Wild Swims: A woman reminisces about the wild swims of her childhood, haunted by the memories of her best friend. But now? Even venturing to the local swimming pool is torture.

Written like a warm, hazy, summery late afternoon, these stories are full of familiar sadness, memories, uncertainty and the wait for something that doesn’t seem to find its way to us. Poetic, raw, honest, this is a masterpiece by one of the greatest writers of Danish Literature. The translation by Misha Hoekstra is superb!

‘’She cocks an ear to the evening sky, listening. No boys in the bushes. No boys on the fairground, they’ve gone, and she tries to make herself taller in order to see it more clearly. The fox is not there, and it’s good that the ring dove flies off, for now she’s standing on the brink. It’s September. In the yard hang apples and black elderberries. Someone’s placed a good chair under the chestnut, she could just sit down, but she’d rather stand here with the gas can. It’s so quiet, now that everyone’s gone home.’’