Dylan Landis tell us that she learns to write fiction by reading fiction. She holds up a well-used copy of Love Medicine, by Louise Erdrich, made thick by page-turning fingers. Dozens of multi-colored sticky notes protrude from the three edges. To a room packed with AWP 2011 conference attendees at a panel discussion on linked collections, Landis uses Erdrich’s book as a visual aid to display exactly what she means by reading.
In Normal People Don’t Live Like This, we follow the life of a girl-turned-woman as she copes with death, high school, mean girls, sexuality, and a mother whose own passage is fraught with grave disturbances. The setting is New York City in the 1970s. Every character expresses bravery and vulnerability in the same narrative moment. Real-like people make real-life choices, then ponder the results, through metaphor, humor, and well-chosen words.
The honesty in this book makes me gasp. Landis knows how much to put in and how much to leave to the reader’s inference. The writing provokes me to lunge towards my desk, and do better with my own.
Landis is a master of comparisons and word economy.
About olives: Plump and brown, they huddle on the plate like waterbugs. (Leah is enamored with biology.)
Angeline’s voice has exactly the same drape as her hair.
They would smell like a thrift shop on a rainy day.
Her voice is a handkerchief fluttering on a wing.
On kissing: He did this until Leah started to feel like sand in an hourglass.
A collection of stories linked by complex character development, this debut publication takes us back to our pasts through Leah and her cohorts as they ride out the pain of adolescence, a time when being smart and young isn’t enough. Light up a Winston (remember those?), hope for better times ahead, and become well-satisfied with the results.
To learn more about the author, find out how a portrait of Toni Morrison sends Dylan Landis back to her writing desk.