cover image A God in Ruins

A God in Ruins

Kate Atkinson. Little, Brown, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-0-316-17653-8

The life expectancy of RAF pilots in World War II was notoriously short, with fewer than half surviving the war. But Teddy Todd%E2%80%94the beloved younger brother of Ursula Todd, whose life in all its variations was the subject of Atkinson%E2%80%99s Life After Life%E2%80%94beats the odds. Inner peace means resuming a life he never expected to have in a now-diminished England. He has nightmares; a wife he loves, although not necessarily enough or in the right way; and, eventually, a daughter who blames him for her mother%E2%80%99s early death and never misses a chance to mention the blood on his hands. As much postwar story as war story, the book is also a depiction of the way past and present mix. Atkinson fans know that she can bend time to her will, and here she effortlessly shifts between Teddy%E2%80%99s flying days and his middle and old age, between his grandchildren and their awful mother, and back again. And, as in Life After Life, Atkinson isn%E2%80%99t just telling a story: she%E2%80%99s deconstructing, taking apart the notion of how we believe stories are told. Using narrative tricks that range from the subtlest sleight of hand to direct address, she makes us feel the power of storytelling not as an intellectual conceit, but as a punch in the gut. (May)