Sonya--unmarried, childless and in her 40s--is in a rut. Her learning to drive forms the basis of Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, a richly drawn novel by Danish author Dorthe Nors (Karate Chop) and translated by Misha Hoekstra. Sonya has never felt at home in metropolitan Copenhagen. She longs to return to the Jutland countryside, where she grew up--even more so now that her beau, Paul, has dumped her for a 20-something. Sonya is burned out in her job translating violent crime novels from Swedish into Danish. She suffers spells of vertigo exacerbated by stress. And she can't seem to connect with her sister, Kate, who is a happily married wife and mother with a "golden retriever and a membership in a gymnastics and fitness club. She bakes kringles and knits woolen stockings." Sonya is determined to conquer her fear of driving. However, her inability to shift gears becomes a metaphor for change in her life. And change is never easy--especially for someone as complicated and lost as Sonya.
The loose plot of Nors's compact, minimalistic story--her first novel to be released in English--is enlivened by flares of deadpan wit and a well-developed cast of secondary characters: two male driving instructors--abrupt Jytte and Folke, with whom Sonya flirts--and Ellen, an outspoken massage therapist, who prods Sonya for being a "tight-ass" with her feelings. Nors's exceptional writing and her insightful grasp on the human condition bolster the heartbreak of Sonya's isolated, solitary existence. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines