Book By Book
One of my favorite books of all time is Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, so last Christmas, my son gave me a volume of her short stories, Not the End of the World, as a gift. I started out just dipping in and out, reading one story at a time here and there, but I found I enjoyed the book far more when I committed to reading it straight through, usually reading one story each day. I really loved this collection of unique, clever, strange stories that mix real-life and elements of fantasy.
Atkinson is known for thoughtful books populated by in-depth characters, with bits of whimsy woven throughout, and this collection of stories highlights her range. Most are set firmly in the real world, some with a strong fantastical element, some with a small magical twist, and some entirely real-world. In Charlene and Trudi Go Shopping, some unnamed apocalyptic event is happening in London in the background, while the two young women in the title attempt to go about their normal lives, chatting about silly luxuries and shopping with a comical ignoring of the real-world crisis occurring. Those two reappear in the last story, Pleasureland, as conditions have continued to worsen and their ability to pretend otherwise is fading. Evil Doppelgängers features a young man named Fielding who works in a newspaper office and starts missing whole days in his memory, as he suspects he has a double who is having much more fun than he is. Heidi takes in a stray tomcat in The Cat Lover, never suspecting what will happen in the weeks to follow or how her life will change. In Dissonance, a single mother and her two ungrateful teens live solitary lives in the same household (and frequently think unkind thoughts of each other), until a horrible accident jars the daughter out of her complacency. A young boy named Arthur is left entirely in the care of his nanny, Missy, as his rockstar father and Romney, his celebrity-obsessed mother, ignore him. The pair get closer and closer as they spend more time together until … oh, I don’t want to ruin it.
These stories are each unique, thought-provoking, immersive, and surprising, with Atkinson’s accomplished writing and sense of humor. Once I began reading the stories one after the other, I realized there were connections between them–characters who appear in multiple stories (Romney is often mentioned), events or places that are referenced multiple times–so that it is clear these stories all take place in the same world. While I’m not a big fan of straight-up fantasy, I loved these stories which all take place in the real world, though sometimes with small (or large) fantastical elements popping up in surprising places. I laughed a lot and always looked forward to reading the next story. This wholly original, amusing, unpredictable collection left me satisfied and thinking, “Why don’t I read short stories more often?”
244 pages, Little, Brown and Company
NOTE: The writing, tone, and fantasy elements in this book reminded me of another short story collection I thoroughly enjoyed, Get in Trouble by Kelly Link.
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