cover image Karate Chop

Karate Chop

Dorthe Nors, trans. from the Danish by Martin Aitken. Graywolf, $14 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-55597-665-1

These very short works (most are no more than three pages, the longest is roughly eight) are as sharp-edged, destructive, and intentionally made as the title suggests. Nowhere here is a word out of place. Imagine Grace Paley with more than a little of Mary Gaitskill’s keen eye for the despair and violence of sex, mixed with an otherness that’s unsettlingly odd and vivid. The sentences are brightly visual and attuned to the weird details of each character’s inner world. In “Janus,” protagonist Louise lies in bed after losing her virginity. She follows her thoughts to an afternoon spent licking envelopes at her father’s office, where she had an intimate daydream about one addressee. “There he had lain under his white linen, smelling of duvet, and Louise had wanted to cry.” Nors’s stories (most like Paley in this way) have multiple stories within them, holding hands with each other. In “Female Killers,” Nors writes, “Maybe that’s why she opens doors in the mind. Doors, stairwells, pantries.” Each of these pages contains a trapdoor, a side entrance, and, at times, they feel like dispatches from an alien world (or maybe the basement). Nors’s writing doesn’t just observe the details of life—online searches, laundry, fantasies, conversations with semi-strangers, compulsions—it offers a marvelous, truthful take on how these details illustrate our souls. (Feb.)