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Book Reviews

Review of Knots by Gunnhild Øyehaug

Øyehaug’s collection of short stories—the shortest being one page and the longest twenty two—is an odd and anxious experience. Everything is quite normal, but slightly off: the spaghetti is slimy and cold, the wallpaper looks red and pimpled, the snow outside blows in, twirling like a dizzying hula hoop. She gives you only the details that are necessary and leaves you wondering if, perhaps, there are actually monsters under the bed. Mostly set in her home-country of Norway, many of these stories such as “Taking Off, Landing,” “Nice and Mild,” and “It’s Snowing” apply the details of Scandinavia to the psyche of the characters within the narrative. The snow is turbulent because the people are. The cluster of a marketplace signifies a clustered group mentality. Additionally, as Øyehaug tends to use third person point of view with sometimes very little omniscience, character action and description becomes vital: every detail is important and nearly strained. A reader must pick up each bread crumb of story. It’s this sparseness and specificity of detail that set the tone of her collection.

Beyond detail, the subject matter of Knots is equal parts surreal, magical, morbid, and realistic. With a blend of reality, character-perceived reality, and downright absurdism, Øyehaug holds hands with the darkness we are afraid to look at, and jabs at the discomforts of various interpersonal relationships. In certain stories like “Small Knot” and “The Deer at the Edge of the Forest,” a degree of magical realism acts as a symbolic vehicle for the insecurities that lie within. In other stories, the sharp mirroring of concrete reality forces the reader into the uncomfortable realm of self-reflection. Overall, Øyehaug’s collection provides a sparse, turbulent illustration for how we can tie ourselves—and others—into a tangle of knots.

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