A mesmerizing collection of playfully surreal stories from one of Norway’s most celebrated writers
First published in Norway in 2004, Knots is Gunnhild Øyehaug’s radical collection of short stories that range from the surreal to the oddly mundane, and prod the discomforts of mental, sexual, and familial bonds.
In both precise short-shorts and ruminative longer tales, Øyehaug meanders through the tangled, jinxed, and unavoidable conflicts of love and desire. From young Rimbaud’s thwarted passions to the scandalous disappearance of an entire family, these stories do the chilling work of tracing the outlines of what could have been in both the quietly morbid and the delightfully comical. A young man is born with an uncuttable umbilical cord and spends his life physically tethered to his mother; a tipsy uncle makes an uncomfortable toast with unforeseeable repercussions; and a dissatisfied deer yearns to be seen. As one character reflects, “You never know how things might turn out, you never know how anything will turn out, tomorrow the walls might fall down, the room disappear.”
Cleverly balancing the sensuous, the surreal, and the comical, Øyehaug achieves a playful familiarity with the absurd that never overreaches the needs of her stories. Full of characters who can’t help tying knots in themselves and each other, these tales make the world just a little more strange, and introduce a major international voice of searing vision, grace, and humor.
|Product dimensions:||4.53(w) x 7.25(h) x 0.49(d)|
About the Author
Gunnhild Øyehaug is an award-winning Norwegian poet, essayist, and fiction writer. Her novel Wait, Blink was made into the acclaimed film Women in Oversized Men’s Shirts. She has also worked as a coeditor of the literary journals Vagant and Kraftsentrum. Øyehaug lives in Bergen, where she teaches creative writing.
Kari Dickson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and grew up bilingually. She has a BA in Scandinavian Studies and an MA in Translation. Before becoming a translator, she worked in theatre in London and Oslo. She currently also teaches in the Scandinavian department at the University of Edinburgh.
Read an Excerpt
Nice and Mild
This is going to be — no, I don't want to be categorical — this could be the start of a virtuous circle. My psychologist has told me that I need to say positive things to myself, only I don't want to be too positive, as that might just make things worse. But I can say this: My life is a mess and I'm going to try to sort it out, starting with the small things. Then, later, I'll be able to deal with bigger, more complicated things; buying blinds is a lifeline that's been thrown to me from dry land as I flail and flounder in the waves, I muse, and park the car outside IKEA.
I'm going to buy blinds for my son. He's been complaining about it for over six months now, the fact that he doesn't have blinds, so the sun shines straight onto his computer screen. And now I'm going to sort it out. I've been saying for the past six months that I'll buy blinds, and every time my wife's said to me, I can do it, if you like, I've said, No, I will sort it out. And now I'm going to do it. It's a nice, mild autumn day and I'm trying to hold on to that, a simple thought; that it's nice and mild. At home, the DVR is recording the match between Anna Kournikova and Serena Williams, I try to hold on to that: the very fact that I'm recording the match and not watching it live is the start of the virtuous circle that buying the blinds was going to start, and what's more, I've come here on my own and no one — that's to say, my wife — knows that I'm here. I didn't say anything about what I was going to do, I didn't even say I was going out; she was in the garden no doubt in her windproof jacket raking the leaves, so I ran out. I want to surprise her in the same way that I'm going to surprise myself. She won't know anything about it, she'll just go into our son's room and see the blinds hanging there and realize that I am starting to sort things out. I don't reflect at all on the fact that I'm basically sneaking off to sort things out, and don't see it as clearly contradictory. It shows initiative. I'm showing myself that all is not lost, which will have positive consequences over time. At home, Anna Kournikova is hitting tennis balls over a net, and I'm not there to watch it, I'm here, and I've been driving around the parking lot for a while now trying to find a space near the perimeter, and I've managed; several times I've felt small waves of claustrophobia and thought, I have to get away from here, before it's too late, before the cars, the people, and the buildings are on top of me and smother me, until my heart explodes with a whistling nothing, but I've weathered the storm, I've talked to myself, said simple things like: I'm going to buy blinds. My life is a mess and I want to try to sort it out, starting with the small things. I repeat: I'm going to buy blinds. Remind myself that everything will be normal, everything will be fine. I will sort it out. I'm going to go in, find the blinds, pay, and leave. At home, Anna Kournikova is hitting tennis balls over a net. And I am not there to watch. I am here, I open the car door, get out, it's nice and mild, close the car door, try not to make an ironic face because I'm thinking such simple, positive things, I try not to see myself from the outside, I try not to think, Idiot, idiot, get away from here, can't you see that being here and thinking positive thoughts is just building up to an enormous anticlimax, it's so obvious, you have to get away, it's going to happen, get out of here, and don't try to pretend that you'll preempt the anticlimax by saying it will happen and thereby prevent it from happening, there's no escape from the way the world has organized today for you. On my way across the parking lot, which I scan nervously from behind dark glasses, trying to ignore the fact that it's full, I think about Anna Kournikova, Anna Kournikova in a short blue dress, her strong thighs, the grunt as her racket hits the hard yellow ball and sends it over the net to the other side, her face, the concentration, the hot red sand she's standing on, or is it a grass court? Be just as concentrated, just as determined, a single-minded bugger: straight in, straight to the blinds, straight out. The ball, I think. I'm almost moved by the thought.
Because you never know how things might turn out, you never know how anything will turn out, tomorrow all the walls might fall down, the room disappear, tomorrow you might have gone to pieces, not managed to keep things together, you might stand there looking at your wife in her windproof jacket out in the garden on a day when everything about her is so faint that you can see right through her. If she's standing in the garden in front of the pear tree in her windproof jacket, all you can see is the pear tree. The knotted trunk. The twisted branches. The clustering leaves. A small dog that runs across the field behind the tree, and a magpie that takes flight. She raises her hand to wave, but you don't see her, and move away from the window, withdraw into the room.
The doors to IKEA slide open, you go in. Try to focus. You're in IKEA and head upstairs. You just have to concentrate on simple tasks, that you're here to buy blinds, that you're walking up the stairs. I always lose any perception of depth when I'm wearing sunglasses, which makes things difficult on stairs, so I take them off and try to put them in the breast pocket of my denim jacket, but miss and they just kind of slide down the front of my jacket, shit, I have to pay attention to what I'm doing, I look down at the breast pocket as my hand guides the sunglasses toward the pocket, then I trip, I trip on the stairs and fall in a very inelegant way just as two teenage girls pass me and giggle because I, an old man, have tripped and am lying sprawled out on the stairs. Don't take it as a sign, don't think NOW EVERYTHING HAS FALLEN, get up. Stand still for a moment, don't rush on as though you were embarrassed and trying to get away in the hope that no one saw you, take your fall with composure and dignity and almost make a point of it by standing there polishing your glasses, which of course, OF COURSE, are now scratched. You've fallen and you know it, and it doesn't matter, except that it hurt, naturally (demonstrate this by touching your knee and making a face and whistling through your teeth). You can stand there a while longer, maybe smile wryly to yourself, then you can start to climb the stairs slowly, while you think that never has Henri Bergson's theory of laughter been better demonstrated, no, it was Baudelaire, of course, Baudelaire's theory of laughter, which is based on the idea (and you have to show that you're thinking, that the fall has given you a certain insight, by looking up slightly to the side and smiling to yourself, maybe smile and look down the stairs, maybe nod, once up and down, but that might perhaps be a bit much) that it is never the one who slips and falls on the street who laughs, but the person walking by who sees it, unless, Baudelaire says, the person who falls is a philosopher and able to reflect on his fall, able to see himself from the outside. You laugh a little. You reflect on your fall, and laugh a little. That, I think as I grimace to myself in a mirror that is suddenly there, is how you should take a fall on the stairs at IKEA, you pathetic bloody idiot. My knee is throbbing. My heart is thumping. I stop at the top of the stairs, put my sunglasses in my pocket.
There are so many people at IKEA today, why did I come here on a day when there are so many people? I feel naked without my sunglasses, I try putting them on again, but it's too silly, and in any case, it's difficult to see anything with them on indoors, they make you trip and they're scratched, it looks ridiculous, I put them in the breast pocket of my denim jacket, fuck that I should fall, my knee hurts a bit, but I try not to limp. I try not to limp through the numerous kitchen, living room, and bedroom interiors and then I suddenly spot the neighbors, they're standing discussing a couple of transparent salad bowls, and I almost run and hide behind the poster display racks. You have to pass through that section to get to the blinds, and I look through the posters while I wait for them not to notice me, to decide whether or not to take the salad bowls and move on, I go through sunsets and Monet's water lilies, and the thought that I'm standing here hiding makes me want to scream, today when you wanted to sort everything out and breathe, to start the virtuous circle that has already started by recording Anna Kournikova on the DVR, you have to stop hiding here behind the posters, you have to go and find the damn blinds, you have to say hello to the neighbors, say that you think the salad bowls are very nice, say everything is fine when they ask how things are, and then carry on. I take a deep breath, step out; the neighbors have moved on. I put on my sunglasses. At home, Anna Kournikova is belting yellow balls over the net. At home, my wife is out in the garden or wherever she's standing in her windproof jacket, crying because she thinks that I can't breathe. At home, my wife is standing looking down at her hands, which are so helplessly pale, she closes her eyes, pulls her hair back tight from her temples, to stop herself from crying because she thinks that I can't breathe, that she is smothering me, which is why I can't face doing anything, why I sit on the sofa for most of the day and watch TV and feel that I'm turning into an old man and that life, in short, is over. She's found an old photo of us, put it in a frame on the mantelpiece, quite casually. As if she suddenly had a frame to spare and needed a picture and just happened to find this one. It's a good picture. She's looking down with a shy smile, and I'm looking straight at her, and it's easy to see that I love her. Our heads are in sync in the photograph, we seem to be leaning gently toward each other, if you just saw the outline of our heads, they might look like two mountain ridges feeding into each other and there's a nice, mild light around our hair. NO, IT'S NOT THAT I CAN'T BREATHE! But now I'm going to sort it out, and she won't know anything about it, she'll just go into the room and see the blinds hanging there. I'll sort that out first, and then the rest. I'm going to get blinds for my son, that's what I'm going to get. The sunlight floods into his room through the window, unhindered, hits the computer screen and makes it hard for him to see. And now I'm going to sort it out.
Unbelievable: my wife is standing over there by the blinds. I'm walking through the glassware and cutlery and salad bowls when I see my wife standing over by the blinds together with the neighbors and an IKEA employee. She's standing by the blinds. At home, Anna Kournikova is standing in a short blue dress hitting yellow tennis balls over the net. Her thighs are powerful and brown. At home, the DVR is whirring in the living room, and the rake is leaning against the pear tree, or the side of the house, or somewhere else. No one is standing pulling her hair back from her temples and no one is sitting apathetically watching TV. I'm wearing my scratched sunglasses and I'm in IKEA looking at my wife, who has got there before me, and I'm wondering how on earth I can get away without her seeing me, I should go over and say "long time no see"— or something funny like that, but I'm embarrassed. I should have done this six months ago. And now I was going to sort it out. I look at her, and hesitate as I look at her. She looks so different standing here in her own life for a moment, there's something about the way she looks at the IKEA employee, something in her face, or perhaps more something about her cheeks, that says she doesn't know anything about blinds, that she trusts him implicitly, but that she doesn't know if she's given him the right information, she's no doubt forgotten to check how wide the window is, and I can see her discussing it with the neighbors, because they have exactly the same windows as us, they point to one of the blinds, and I stare, I stare at her cheeks that look so naked. She's so beautiful. And then, when she notices me, as I'm more or less reversing, without realizing that that's what I'm doing, as quietly as I can, into a table of see-through salad bowls, and the salad bowls just keep falling and falling, she just smiles. She actually smiles.
Taking Off, Landing
Things weren't so bad! Geir had his van, he had a sign on the roof that read "Eggs and Prawns." He didn't have many eggs and prawns in the car, but he had a place at the market, and the market was by the harbor, so he could just sit there. Day in and day out. Watch the seagulls taking off and landing, landing and taking off. Reminisce about his own time at sea. Watch the people passing by, carrying their heavy shopping bags, slipping on the ice. Today he had laughed a lot, thanks to a particular spot outside the flower shop, where no fewer than three people had fallen on their asses in a row.
Things were good. There was so much to see. So even though he didn't exactly have a lot to do, it was far from boring sitting in his van all day, in the same place. And it wasn't cold. He had his thermal overalls on and a trapper's hat. And he could listen to the radio. And then that oddball Asle came along carrying a rather large stone. It looked like he was struggling; the poor guy probably didn't have much strength, thin and weedy as he was. What was he going to do with the stone?
Jump? Geir had to laugh.
But poor Asle. It was something to do with him not getting enough oxygen to the brain, because he'd been blowing glass for so long. He'd blown some incredible things. But in the end, he could only blow glass bubbles. Which made Geir laugh. And he hung them up in the trees! There was a tap at the window; he wound it down. It was Åsta. "Oh, is it you, Åsta?" he said, and Åsta looked at him sternly from under her red hat. It was a round, woolly hat, the red fuzz waving gently. "I see you've got a sea anemone on your head today," he said, and Åsta pursed her lips. "Oh, hush, will you," she said, and pushed her shopping cart demonstratively into the car door. "Have you got any eggs and prawns?" He turned toward the backseat as if to look, then leaned forward again. "Looks like it's empty, sorry." "Well, isn't that a surprise," Åsta said. "And yet you've still got a place at the market," she said. "You'll have to come back tomorrow," he said. "I'll have a new supply then." "That'd be something, wouldn't it," Åsta said, and took hold of the cart. He rolled up the window just as she was saying something, smiled and nodded to her as she sent him an indignant look before tottering gingerly off down the road on her ice grips.
Geir looked around. There were very few people out and about at this time of morning. It must be the slippery ice that was deterring them from taking their normal walks. He grabbed a bar of chocolate that was on the seat beside him, and just then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Asle standing behind the factory wall at the start of the old, rotten quay; he took a few steps out onto the rotten wood. Geir leaned toward the windshield so he could see better. What was he doing there? He rolled down the window to shout that it wasn't safe, that the quay was rotten, that he mustn't go any farther, but just then Asle took a couple of peculiar, heavy steps, then gathered himself and jumped. A huge splash. Geir swallowed. A chill washed through him. He looked at the backseat. At the chocolate in his hand. Gripped the steering wheel, leaned toward the windshield. He was a little bewildered now.
Kåre came into this world with an umbilical cord that no one could cut. The umbilical cord was attached to a placenta that refused to come out. It stayed where it was; it wouldn't budge. They couldn't cut the umbilical cord, or remove the placenta. "This is a bit of a quandary," the doctor said. A bit. At first, his father took it as a personal defeat, the fact that he couldn't cut the umbilical cord: he thought he must be the lowest of the low, a wretch of a father, when he couldn't even do a simple thing like that. To be fair, the umbilical cord was both thick and slippery, but it wasn't abnormally thick. Just abnormally strong. And there was comfort for Kåre's father in the fact that no one else could cut it, none of the nurses, none of the doctors, no matter how hard they tried. "We'll have to find a way to live with it, Marianne," Kåre's father said. "You're attached for life, no doubt about it."
Marianne didn't really have any objection. In many ways, it was easier to keep an eye on the little boy, and she could just pull in the cord if she lost sight of him, or he ran away and hid. Having a private life with his father was of course problematic, but they managed all the same: it was just a matter of doing it as quietly as possible, with as little movement as possible. Kåre's father, on the other hand, found it harder and harder to cope with the situation, he needed movement! he would sometimes shout when he got really angry, often after some public outing: a shopping trip or a walk in the park, when people had stared at the grayish white, naked cord between the mother and son. And at Kåre's father, so he believed, as he walked half a step behind them with his head bowed. He couldn't stand it any longer. He left.
Excerpted from "Knots"
Copyright © 2012 Kolon Forlag.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Nice and Mild 3
Taking Off, Landing 13
Small Knot 17
Gold Pattern 27
A Renowned Engineer 44
The Girl Holding My Hand 47
From the Lighthouse 54
Grandma Is Sleeping 57
An Entire Family Disappears 61
It’s Raining in Love 64
Oh, Life 76
The Deer at the Edge of the Forest 88
It’s Snowing 89
Fortune Smiles on Mona Lisa 96
Blanchot Slips Under a Bridge 117
Meanwhile, on Another Planet 130
Vitalie Meets an Officer 132
The Object Assumes an Exalted Place in the Discourse 139
Two by Two 142