cover image Normal Rules Don’t Apply: Stories

Normal Rules Don’t Apply: Stories

Kate Atkinson. Doubleday, $28 (224p) ISBN 978-0-385-54950-9

This stunning collection from Atkinson (Shrines of Gaiety) is a master class in literary worldbuilding. These 11 interconnected stories happen in a world one step removed from this one, where human existence is regulated by the Void, a daily, five-minute apocalyptic event causing mass death. Here, characters proper to fairy tales, myths, and scripture rub shoulders with inhabitants of northern England in scenes from otherwise prosaic lives: recurring character Franklin, for example, who, over the course of the collection, meets a talking horse and a chatty dog, and finally drives off with Aoife, the bewitched child of a queen. In “Gene-Sis,” humankind is subject to the decisions of Kitty, an advertising executive and Sister of God, who must remake the world from scratch while simultaneously writing a campaign for a new, healthy smoothie. “Blithe Spirit” follows Mandy, a downtrodden secretary to a disreputable politician, who observes the investigation into her own murder from the ghostly beyond. Atkinson delights in metafictional possibilities: young Franklin’s idea for a novel—“A text based on non-linear dynamics, a Borgesian exploration of parallel worlds”—though ridiculed by other characters, mimics the collection’s structure. If the concept sounds promisingly fun, the whimsical but sharp prose is built to match, full of speculative glee, but tinged with poignancy. Agent: Kim Witherspoon, InkWell Management. (Sept).