Nors is an exquisitely precise writer, and in rendering her heroine’s small disruptions and, yes, victories, she is writing...

MIRROR, SHOULDER, SIGNAL

In this tautly observed novel, Nors reveals a middle-age woman on the verge of disappearance and discovery.

Danish writer Nors is a miniaturist; her book So Much for That Winter (2016) gathers two novellas that read like collections of epigrams, while her story collection Karate Chop (2014) brings together 15 microfictions, each imbued with an uneasy sense of loss. In this, the first of her four novels to be translated into English, she follows up on and enlarges these concerns. The story of Sonja, 40-something, a translator of Swedish crime fiction, the book unfolds in and around Copenhagen, but its true territory is the inner life. Sonja is stuck: bored of translation work, envious (but not really) of her sister who appears to have it all. She is learning to drive—the title is a reference to her instructor’s admonition about changing lanes in traffic—and she also suffers from positional vertigo, an inherited condition in which she can fall prey to dizziness simply by the wrong movement of her head. In part, all this is metaphor, a way to frame Sonja’s displacement. She is anonymous, much like the women Nors describes in her essay “On the Invisibility of Middle-Aged Women” (2016). At the same time, Nors is after something bigger than mere symbol; she is trying to excavate the pattern of a life. “But it doesn’t matter,” Sonja says late in the novel. “I manage, of course.” The line, in many ways, is key to the novel, which makes vivid drama out of the most mundane events. Not much happens here—some awkward interactions with her driving teachers, a couple of massages, some letters and phone calls with her family—but not much has to, for the drama Nors excavates is the most human one. What does it mean to keep on living? What does it mean to make a place for oneself, no matter how small or conditional? “A person who has her hand on the back of your heart,” Sonja reminds us, “shouldn’t be unsure.”

Nors is an exquisitely precise writer, and in rendering her heroine’s small disruptions and, yes, victories, she is writing for, and of, every one of us.

Pub Date: June 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-55597-808-2

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

THE WINTER GUEST

An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

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MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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