cover image So Much for That Winter

So Much for That Winter

Dorthe Nors, trans. from the Danish by Misha Hoekstra. Graywolf, $15 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-55597-742-9

These two experimental novellas from Nors (Karate Chop) follow artists through personal and aesthetic crises after breakups. The first, “Minna Needs Rehearsal Space,” shows Nors’s economy and perceptiveness, and outshines the second, “Days.” Minna is a Copenhagen avant-garde composer working on a sonata of tonal rows, the rules of which the author mirrors in syntax: repetition, inversion, and reordering of a limited set. The resulting “see Spot run” style would be merely cutesy in less talented hands. Minna is “in many ways desperate,” recently dumped via text and at odds with the women in her life. Coffee with Jette, a harpist who dates married men, agitates Minna’s professional and romantic anxieties. Karin, happy in the hinterlands, “brags about motocross, sex, and pork sausage.” Their email volleys exemplify the story’s dry humor. Minna learns of her mother’s disappointment at her childlessness through her blog. Her domineering sister hounds her all the way to a Baltic island, where Minna finally outruns cell phone service and the reader is treated to a cathartic and suspenseful climax. This rich social world is almost entirely absent from “Days,” a sort of diary burdened with inscrutable line-numbering. Here, the pang of romantic loss is squelched by vagueness, and the self-absorbed writer protagonist insists on sharing her melodramatic appreciations of graveyards. Fortunately, Nors’s fine-grained renderings of ordinary moments periodically zap the world back to life. (June)