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New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "The Heron" by Dorthe Nors

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New Yorker...who said that an English Minor wasn't good for anything?

Issue: Sept. 9th

Story: The Heron

Author: Dorthe Nors

Plot: A creepy, morbid Dutch lady sits by a pond and gets creeped out by the herons. She sees one sick heron laying his head on a bench, and it skeeves her out. Then she remembers when she used to run around the pond with her childhood friend Lorenz. Then she has a twisted day dream about the young mothers who circle the pond with their strollers, imagining what would happen if they swelled up and exploded.

Review: Okay, this story has one major thing going for it; it's short. At barely a page and a half, this is my kind of short story. Nothing makes me read more carefully than when I can see that telltale little black diamond the New Yorker uses at the end of articles peeking at me after only about one page.

The narrator is highly intelligent, but depressed ( the two often go hand in hand, don't they?). She has an inner conflict about birds: she says they are disgusting and carry disease and should be avoided and yet she feels an enormous amount of sympathy for the sick heron on the bench. Or, at the least, she feels regret that she didn't sit closer to the heron an keep it company. There is a difference: regret is not the same as sympathy. I would say her feelings for the heron err slightly more toward the regret side, which is logical because regret is a more self-centered feeling; depression is a very self-centered affliction.

There's also a certain amount of environmental anxiety underlying this story. The narrator laments the fact that the herons are, as a group, not as healthy as they once were. People feed them too much bread. A housing development has sprung up around the pond and the herons hardly have any room to live anymore.

Finally, this environmental anxiety reaches a head when she imagines a grisly scene in which the young mothers with their strollers all swell-up and explode. I'm reminded of a news story I once heard about frogs in Europe mysteriously swelling-up and exploding, because of some hyper-active bacteria in their stomachs, probably caused by a disruption in their ecosystem.

Overall what we have here is a bleak, twisted, and fundamentally apocalyptic vignette; a peek into the mind of a woman fearful and disgusted by the future, and looking back only into the past. Personally, I think she had her heart broken really badly, maybe she even lost a baby to a miscarriage or illness. Something happened in the past, some prior trauma. She's gotten over it, but the process of getting over it has changed her and narrowed her view the world so that she sees only the dark and dismal parts of it.


Anonymous said…
The narrator is not a Dutch lady, but an old Danish man ;-)

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