cover image The Pier Falls

The Pier Falls

Mark Haddon. Doubleday, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-385-54075-9

Haddon’s (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) collection of nine short stories is a mélange of acutely observed domestic dramas and bizarre tales of life in outer space, ancient Greece, and a trip to a remote corner of the globe to retrieve a lost explorer. Highlights include “Bunny,” which recounts the story of a 27-year-old man who weighs 518 lbs. due to his addiction to junk food; “Breathe,” the story of a woman who returns to England from her expatriate life in California to face the relics of her desiccated family; and “Wodwo,” which combines family holiday-time melodrama with the appearance of a strange man who may be a character straight out of British folklore. “The Island,” about a princess who finds herself left on an island, and the titular “The Pier Falls,” which calmly recounts a seaside disaster, are quietly unrelenting in their descriptions of horror. Subtle strands often serve to connect the stories to one another, whether it’s a problematic mother or the smell of ammonia on someone’s dying breath. Though each story is beautifully written, Haddon is at his best when capturing the peculiarly dark, British mirth that accompanies disaster. Agent: Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Associates. (May)