Karate Chop: Stories
“The Winter Garden”
“The Winter Garden” is from Dorthe Nors’s acclaimed story collection, KARATE CHOP: STORIES (Graywolf Press in conjunction with A Public Space, 2014). Nors’s work has appeared in The New Yorker , Harper’s, A Public Space, and elsewhere.
These fifteen compact stories are meticulously observed glimpses of everyday life that expose the ominous lurking under the ordinary: while his wife sleeps, a husband prowls the Internet, obsessed with female serial killers; a bureaucrat tries to reinvent himself, exposing goodness as artifice when he converts to Buddhism in search of power; a woman sits on the edge of the bed where her lover lies, attempting to locate a motive for his violence within her own self-doubt. These stories encompass the complexity of human emotions, our capacity for cruelty as well as compassion.
Nors said about her piece: Stories aren’t always written in the order they seem. In the case of “The Winter Garden,” the ending was written first. The child that suddenly realizes that the beloved parent is just an ordinary human being is a memory of mine. My mother and I once visited a lady who had a son who stuck his tongue out at her. It terrified me. I loved–and still love–my mother and no one had ever stuck their tongue out at her in my presence before. I thought she was respected by everyone, but here was this little punk illustrating to me that he had absolutely no emotional attachment to my mother.
It was a point of no return in my life–like it is for all of us when we learn that the gods we call Mother and Father are in reality just plain folks lit up from within by the love we share with them. The last thing I wrote was the beginning: the death of the Danish comedian Dirch Passer. Those of us who lived back then remember his death like older generations remember the death of JFK. Dirch Passer was such a big star, so vibrant and funny that we thought death wouldn’t catch up with him. But death did-and linking it to the memory of losing the illusion of a divine presence in a parent worked out to be a good match.
I cooked up the divorce and all the rest in my sick little mind. My parents are still married, they don’t have a winter garden, and they are still quite ordinary–beloved–people. And besides, I’m a girl, and I think the narrator in the story is a boy, but ah–the illusions of fiction.