Mark Haddon (of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time fame) comes at us with this brilliantly diverse and surprisingly dark collection of stories ranging from mythological to contemporary and realistic to sci-fi to adventure and more.
I was honestly surprised by every story and found myself drawn into each one in a different way. The title story is the first one and reads like something plucked from Stephen King's head: a pier with hundreds of people on it collapses and descends into the water, dragging many to their deaths. It's hard to look away from the page, but at the same time, it's written with this over-arching perspective, like a doctor performing an autopsy with no emotional affect. Chilling and beautifully done.
An underlying thread throughout the stories were themes of loneliness and unhappiness and how people deal with that—people who live on the fringes of society like a morbidly obese man, a man who has nothing left in his life but his two dogs, and a dysfunctional family at Christmastime to name a few.
There were also elements of mythology woven throughout, sometimes more overtly, such as in "The Island," which was an Angela Carter-esque retelling of the Greek myth of the Minotaur. In other stories, it was more hidden, and in some it was just a smattering of the supernatural in an otherwise familiar world, like "Wodwo," the aforementioned Christmas family tale
There is so much to talk about here! So much to explore and so, so much to appreciate. There's a lot to be learned from a well-crafted short story and I think these tales easily flirt with the greats. The style of this collection reminded me a lot of Adam Johnson's National Book Award winning collection from last year, Fortune Smiles. Haddon is not one to over-tell a story. If anything, he underplays his hand until the last second, and then throws down that ace-high straight flush with a devastating flourish.
A few of the stories have such unexpected twists at the end that they really got me thinking—more like searching—the characters' minds, looking for what made them tick, where their decisions came from. They were such human characters and those shocking moments that left me puzzling and rethinking the entire story made me realize that the characters were more than was written on the page: they had internal lives and intentions and breath beyond their short dialogue.
Just because we get the chance to peek in through the window that the story provides doesn't mean that's the whole story, and that is what's so magical in the worlds that Haddon has created here.
It's short story month, so whether you are a writer, reader, or whatever, jump on this collection. I don't get people who say they don't like to read short stories—besides being so much fun, they are an amazing way to learn about writing! I think short stories are such a telling format; they highlight weaknesses like wine stains on a white carpet. It's easier to hide in a novel since there's so many pages, but in a short format, every word counts.
All the greats write short fiction, so there's got to be something to it. Interesting, diverse story collections like this one are worth picking up—trust me. Have I ever led you astray before?
Get your copy of The Pier Falls
Find out more about Mark Haddon
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Find out more about the publisher: Doubleday Books (Knopf)
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Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.