Dorthe Nors — Minna Needs Rehearsal Space (2013)

I haven’t read a lot of Nordic fiction, but having recently returned from a first trip to Denmark, encountering a review of this new volume of Dorthe Nors’s work, I felt compelled to check it out. The book Pushkin Press has put out is actually a combination of Nors’s 2008 short story collection—Karate Chop—and a newer work: 2013’s prose-poem / novella, Minna Needs Rehearsal Space. I chose to dive into the latter first because I was intrigued by the form, and I remained so throughout its 89 pages.

Taken as a whole the work is decidedly more prosaic than poetic, although Nors nevertheless displays an assured understanding of rhythm and pace. To construct a narrative from largely declarative sentences, none of them long enough to break over two lines, demands a kind of discipline. Perhaps unavoidably, because of how the eye is drawn and how the language flows, the piece is quite propulsive. Nors exacerbates that by choosing to repeatedly start successive sentences with the same word. But within these constraints, she displays a great deal of tonal diversity:

One shouldn’t hurt others unnecessarily. One should above all be kind. Minna would rather not be anything but. Minna’s hardly anything but. The email thunders through the ether toward Karin. That’s as it should be, thinks Minna. The ether’s full of malicious messages. The ether hums with break-ups and loss. The ether is knives being thrown. The ether is blood surging back.

The text moves from Minna’s point of view to comment on her inner monologue and shifts so often and so fluidly that it sometimes occupies a position not readily identifiable to the reader.

Minna and Jette sit sans camouflage in the midst of it all. Jette’s eyes are insistent. Minna has a hard time relaxing. The legs biking. The arms warding off blows. The body full of vim. The soul supposed to sit still. It ain’t easy.

I read the bulk of Minna Needs Rehearsal Space in two large gulps. Partly because the text makes it so easy to slip into its stream and get pulled along, but also because it felt that at any one point I was learning something about the central character—either by revelation or inference—that reframed my understanding of the narrative, whilst drawing me forward to discover more. The writing is, in places, quite beautiful, and whilst it felt at the start that the odd format may be a distraction, that never proved to be the case; Nors’s economy of language always allowed the work’s ideas to shine all the more clearly, rather than diminishing them.

Dad’s hand and Minna’s. The blue delta of Dad’s hand. The sea rises in Minna. The sea finds fissures in Minna. Minna’s leaky. Minna opens her eyes and blinks. The sea tricks slowly. The sea reaches land. The beads of gravel rattle.