There’s nothing better than a summertime read that so thoroughly describes the tragic, horrific event of an ocean pier falling and taking human life with it. The title of this short story collection by Mark Haddon (and consequently, the title of the first of these stories) is so simplistic, so matter of fact, yet no detail between the covers goes untouched. The first moments of the pier’s destruction to ten years after are well constructed, and while the scenes can be difficult to read, not reading is even more grueling.
Mark Haddon is the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which is why I placed this short story collection on my TBR list. He embeds the reader into the characters and stories so quickly that the endings wrench you back into the real world with disorientation similar to being spun around twenty times and then being forced to walk in a straight line, regardless of the pace with which the story is told.
The first story had the best pace out of all of them. I never thought I would get through the second to last story, “The Boys Who Left Home to Learn Fear.” Although the title captivated me, my interest exponentially decreased the further away I got from the title. More savagery and less ambiguity would have held my interest completely, a thought I am surprised to be formulating; perhaps Mark Haddon has tapped into a place of my reader unconscious I had not yet discovered! How beautifully sly.
In every story of this collection, elements of family and connection contrast with misfortune, unease, solitude. As I read that back, “contrast” is not the correct word. It is perhaps impossible to have connections to people, places, things without also experiencing misfortune, unease, solitude. These are hardly mutually exclusive elements, and Mark Haddon explores this to the point where the reader stops wishing for him to turn the focus on the positivity in his characters’ lives and joins him in observing the blinding power of torment and life-altering decisions. Interest does not always lie in the making of beautiful things; a lot of the time fascination stems out of how situations can be upended and taken down so rapidly. This makes a story, no matter how unsightly or bizarre or grotesque, human.
I cannot leave out the fact that the last story, “The Weir,” was already familiar to me. It was published in The New Yorker in November of last year (read it here!), around the time I was reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It is about a man who saves the life of someone who willingly plunges into a river in order to drown. Although this literal almost-drowning occurs, it’s hard not to wonder which character in the story is actually drowning, or who is desperately reaching out to grab something solid in order to stay afloat. The relationship that spurs is not quite predictable or conventional, but sometimes the best relationships are not.
I do recommend reading Mark Haddon’s The Pier Falls and Other Stories, and would love to hear your thoughts after you absorb his alluring ways of telling a story. And if you would like to read my impressions of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, click here.