Normal People Don't Live Like This
 by Dylan Landis

Persea Books 2009, Paperback
First collection

awards: One of Newsday's Best Books of 2009

Dylan Landis' debut novel-in-stories, Normal People Don't Live Like This, was a finalist for the Grace Paley Award for Short Fiction. She has published fiction in Bomb, Tin House, Best American Nonrequired Reading and has won a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. A former journalist, Landis covered medicine for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and interior design for the Chicago Tribune, and has written ten books on decorating and other subjects. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Read an interview with Dylan Landis







"Helen Levinson stared into her daughter’s top drawer, seeking folded white cotton. Instead: a tangle of fuscia bikinis. Satin brassieres in a psychedelic print – psychedelic, one of those Jimi Hendrix drug words. Fishnet stockings, parrot-green. "

Reviewed by Daniela I. Norris

Leah Levinson knows more about life than she is willing to admit. Her mother thinks of food as a necessary evil. Her girlfriends smoke, do drugs and have miscarriages in the school toilets. Yet she is a good girl from a good Jewish family – but not for long.
"Her mother cradled a teacup as if holding a dove. Toast cooled before her. If Leah thought hard across the table, she might arrange their confluence – fingers, toast. Toast, throat. Throat, esophagus, stomach, bowel. Leah had assembled the Visible Woman. She knew the route. Her spoon ticked three times against the side of her egg cup.    

‘Please,’ her mother said. ‘If you could eat breakfast without tapping. Just this once.’

Her father stared back and forth between them, looking newly amazed every morning. His breakfast never gave him any trouble… …'Sweetheart, let her tap, At least she eats.’

‘Mom eats,’ said Leah. ‘She just pukes it up after.’" (from Fire)
Leah’s mother loves her, but their relationship is difficult. Her grandmother Sophia is journeying on another dimension.
"Leah’s grandmother, Sophia Rose, washed and dried her dinner plates, stacked them in the oven and set it on broil. She hid her pearls in the toilet tank, where they coiled under a rubber flap and created a perpetual flush. ‘Nine is green,’ said Grandma Rose. ’Four is red. Mint tasted like flashes of light.’ Leah’s parents decided it was time. They said Leah could stay with any friend she wanted. Oleander, said Leah… …’I don’t see why you have to put her away,’ said Leah, watching Helen fold tissue paper into her clothes – a winter-white sweater, because fall came early upstate, and a herringbone silk scarf. Helen hated wind in her hair." (from Rose)
In language which is partly-literary, partly taken straight from high-school corridors and girls’ intimate conversations, Landis takes the reader into the often-confused worlds of teenage girls in the Upper West Side of New York City in the 1970’s.
"Angeline Yost keeps a switchblade in her sock… …Angeline Yost did it in her parents’ bed and a week later they had crabs so bad they were in their armpits. The gospel of Angeline Yost is graven into desks with housekeys and the blood of Bics; it is written in the glances of girls – low arcs of knowing that span the hallways and ping off the metal lockers." (from Rana Fegrina)
Angeline Yost becomes Leah’s friend, and accompanies her on her coming-of-age journey. So do Oleander and her sister Pansy, who live with their mother, Bonita, in one bedroom, while their dad lives in the other – "a New York divorce". Leah’s mother, Helen, is shocked when she first steps into their world. But then she distances herself from the situation.
"’She’s probably got a lover,’ said Oleander. ‘She’s probably in some hotel’. What Nestor had was a tank of nitrous from Mt. Sinai, where he was an orderly… …’I bring back the empties,’ said Nestor, gripping it with his knees. ‘And air ain’t stealing, right, baby?’ He screwed on the regulator, turned a knob. The tank sighed once. Oleander, lying on the sofa, lifted her head from his lap to watch. It wasn’t fair, thought Leah, the way their bodies touched and untouched without consequence, the way his arm brushed her collarbone and then moved away without a rupture. ‘My mother is in France for work,’ said Leah, ‘and nitrous oxide is not air.’" (from Hate)
This debut novel-in-stories, which is partly a coming-of-age tale, partly an exploration of the inner world of teenage girls, is very culture-specific - but has a definite literary quality to it. In using beautifully crafted prose and appealing storytelling, Dylan Landis successfully explores the book-title statement: Normal People Don’t Live Like This. Apparently, in America, they do.




Read a story from this collection in  Swink

Daniela I. Norris  is a former diplomat, turned writer. She is the author of numerous award-winning short stories, articles and co-author of Crossing Qalandiya: Exchanges Across the Israeli/Palestinian Divide, out in May 2010. She is also a book reviewer on World Radio Switzerland's Bookmark program .
Daniela's other Short Reviews: Lynne Patrick (ed) "Criminal Tendencies"

Dede Crane "The Cult of Quick Repair"

Alexandra Leggat "Animal"

"Tales of the Decongested Vol 2"

David Eagleman "Sum: Tales from the Afterlives"

J. Robert Lennon "Pieces for the Left Hand"

Wells Tower "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned"
                     
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