Courtesy of the artist

How to Tell a Story Using This Weird Trick

Dorthe Nors’ new book of novellas makes lists and headlines feel raw and alive.

Headlines used to be an art form. Newspapers once hired people specifically to condense all the drama and nuance and vitality of a news story into five or six words that could grab readers at 20 paces.

Now the headline has become the domain of the social-media expert, and the goal is much more modest: to divert you, however momentarily, from your Facebook news feed. Which is why every headline feels like a sleazy pick-up line: Without that relentless clash between specificity and withheld information (“This Weird Trick Might Make Your Life Actually Worth Living”) or sheer factoid overload (“57 Rock and Roll Shows You Have to Attend This Week or Something Terrible Will Happen to You”), a headline is never going to divert you from the soap opera that is your friends’ lives.

Unless the headlines are another person’s life. The first story in Danish author Dorthe Nors’ newest book of novellas, So Much for That Winter, is told entirely in headlines. She combines the active language and brevity of old-school newspaper headlines with the everyday grind of daily life. Focusing on a young woman named Minna as she recovers from a breakup, the brutal quick hits intensify Minna’s struggle:

“Minna sees the mothers’ group often.

The mothers’ group takes walks in Amager.

The mothers’ group drives in formation.

The mothers’ group is scared of getting fat.

The mothers’ group goes jogging with their baby buggies.

The mother’s group eats cake at the café.

The mothers’ group contends gently for the view.

The baby buggies pad the façade.

The baby buggies form a breastwork.

Minna fears the mothers’ group.

Minna cannot say that out loud.

Minna has no child.”

This format can be a bit much; the lines’ uniform brevity makes the story’s staccato pace uncomfortably relentless. “Days,” the other novella in Winter, is the perfect antidote for readers exhausted by headline overdose: a series of lists written by a woman on the verge of cracking up. Unlike the short bursts of Minna’s story, “Days” enjoys varied rhythms and cadences:

“2. Had my last wisdom tooth extracted.

3. Had my mouth stitched up with needle and thread by a man who said I would heal slowly because my age was against me.

4. as if I didn’t know that, I thought, as if it isn’t such things that make me stop midmotion in plotting out the future, and if you’ve got something for aching of the heart, Dr. Lars, if you’ve got something for emptiness and loss of voice, if you’ve got something for time’s tooth, then be sure to add it to my bill, but otherwise I think you should hold your tongue, unless you want to hear my philosophy of teeth—would you like to hear it? Would you?

5. Didn’t get the tooth to bring home.”

Though they make up the traffic of our online lives, lists and headlines have never felt so alive, so uncomfortable, so raw as they do when Nors writes them. (UPDATE: This event has been cancelled.) Dorthe Nors, Capitol Hill Library, 425 Harvard Ave. E., spl.org. Free. 6:30 p.m. Thurs., June 30. Paul Constant is the co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read daily books coverage like this at seattlereviewofbooks.com.

More in Arts & Culture

Lauryn Youden’s ‘A place to retreat when I am sick (of you)’ as part of ‘Group Therapy.’ Photo Mark Woods.
Searching for Relief in the Frye’s ‘Group Therapy’

The new group exhibit finds artists tapping into themes of natural wellness and psychological self-care.

Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, and Jack Black get their kiddie horror on in The House 
With a Clock in Its Walls. Photo courtesy Storyteller Distribution Co.
Tick, Tick… Boo!

Jack Black and Cate Blanchett can’t prevent the spooky kids’ movie The House with a Clock in Its Walls from feeling a bit insincere.

The Kinesthetic Truth of Jerome Robbins

Pacific Northwest Ballet opens its season with a centennial celebration of legendary choreographer.

Illustration by Taylor Dow
Get Brave

Saturn and an Aries full Moon squeeze us into action.

Musicians Rally for a Free #SaveTheShowbox Concert at City Hall

The event corresponds with the City’s public land use hearing regarding expanding the Pike Place Market Historic District.

Welcome to the new Hugo House. Photo by Seth Sommerfeld
A New Chapter For Hugo House

After two nomadic years, the nonprofit Seattle writing center is ready to open its new, expanded home.

The finale of ‘Volta’ brings the X Games to Cirque du Soleil. Photo by Patrice Lamoureux
Cirque du Xtreme

While thematically uncentered, Cirque du Soleil’s BMX-adorned Volta still entertains.

Walking Seattle Art Museum’s halls is just one of the options available on Museum Day. Photo by Natali Wiseman
Snag a Free Museum Day Ticket

Smithsonian Magazine ‘s September 22 celebration opens the doors to some of the region’s best cultural institutions.

Most Read