Normal People Dont Live Like This



Originally published in
Bomb, Summer 2004


Originally published in
The Santa Monica Review
Spring 2002





An extraordinary mix of the work of Mary Gaitskill and Scott Spencer, this remarkable fiction debut piercingly yet tenderly portrays the inner lives of a girl and her mother in New York City in the 1970s.

In ten stories, written from a variety of perspectives, we follow the uneasy yet magnetic relationships between Leah Levinson, a guarded teenager, and the delinquent girls she worships. Leah and her artistic mother, Helen, struggle against the confines of their pasts and personalities, unaware of how similar their paths are as they make repeated, touching attempts to break free. Just when they seem to have reached an impasse, each makes an impulsive change of place: Leah takes a trip abroad with an endearing young man, and Helen rents, and fantastically ornaments, a secret room in a welfare hotel. Jolted from their old patterns, daughter and mother independently glimpse the possibility of a different, more vibrant life.


Dylan Landis has a keen eye for the right detail, and is a master of deciding what to include—and what to leave out. Leah and her enigmatic mother Helen are authentic, vulnerable characters, whose private truths are exposed at perfect, unexpected moments. Normal People Don’t Live Like This is a wonderful, intriguing, and original debut.

—Elizabeth Strout, author of Olive Kitteridge, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 2009

“Tense and intense, Landis’ prose is as taut and alluring as her characters.”

—Marion Winik, Newsday

Landis’s characters and the rich, rough worlds they inhabit are rendered with bracing precision and devastating grace. I can’t think of the last time I read a debut collection so powerfully alive.

—Justin Taylor, Time Out New York

Dylan Landis has a gift for creating characters…watch her very carefully. Once you can create characters like Leah (or Angeline, Rainey and Helen), there’s no stopping you.

—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

Landis knows when to be dreamy, and she knows when to be sharp…These lost, damaged, but oh so alive women imprint themselves on the reader’s heart…Dylan Landis’ precisely observed women are on the verge of everything, capable of anything.

—Susan Larson, Book Editor, The New Orleans Times-Picayune

The characters in Dylan Landis’s debut story collection, Normal People Don’t Live Like This, are blessedly extraordinary.

—Elissa Schappell, Hot Type, Vanity Fair

Nothing appeals to me more than a collection of artfully arranged short stories that add up to a truthful, imperfect life. Landis’s characters, spanning adolescence to adulthood, are both funny and frank, vulnerable and resilient.

—Sandra Beasley, Washingtonian magazine

Landis…writes here in a style attuned to inadvertent beauty. We see “the thin skull of her mer medium-boiled egg”…the women with “curbstone eyes.” In such eloquent prose, Landis conveys the understanding that it is a mean, dangerous, wonderful world.

—Mindy Farabee, Rain Taxi

You read Normal People on the treadmill. You read it on the sidewalk. You meet Landis’s characters and you like them more than the people you know in real life. You think, while tearing through the pages: This woman knows all my secrets. Much like the work of Alice Munro, the intrigue of Landis’s stories lies in small gestures and the exploration of characters’ psyches with a thorough, delicate eye.

—Megan Casella Roth, The Rumpus

A clear-eyed account of what it’s like to be a teenage girl: Leah Levinson is gripped by the sexual escapades of her classmates and enamored of mean girls (her “heart sprouted like a seed” when one phoned her). The tales in this bravura work, set in the 1970s, are timeless: They could easily belong to our daughters’ generation instead of our own.

—Sara Nelson, Great Reads and Holiday Books to Give & Get, More magazine

Delicious writing…Evocative, lyrical prose, and vivid imagery coupled with a subtle fictional approach, mysterious references, and ambiguities. Buy this for your literary fiction readers and short story fans—they’ll appreciate it.

—Ellen Loughran, Booklist

Teenage girls make for compelling fictional subjects, and portraying them honestly requires a certain grit…Landis doesn’t flinch, lavishing attention on Leah’s obsessive-compulsiveness, the jumbled contents of her underwear drawer, and a friend’s sudden miscarriage.

—Eryn Loeb, Bookforum

Read it one story at a time. Read it as a novel. Read it out of order. Read it upside-down. Just read it. You’ll see what I mean.

—Caitlin Hill, The Writer’s Center

In this bracing debut, Dylan Landis guides us into the harsh, secretive world of girls, where the mysteries of power and sexuality baldly govern, and adults and teenagers occasionally intersect across the barbed wire of a mutually earned mistrust.

—Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and Paint it Black

Dylan Landis matches Margaret Atwood in her richly detailed acts of malice.

Politics & Prose

Dylan Landis leaves me breathless with admiration. Her haunting, luminous characters hold secrets we can’t help but recognize as our own, and we’re privy to their most intimate, complicated moments. Beautiful and unrelenting, Normal People Don’t Live Like This had me nodding and sighing and thinking, ‘Oh, but we do, we do.’

—Lisa Glatt, author of A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That and The Apple’s Bruise

These stories live in fear and move with grace and surprise. They’re edgy yet sophisticated, touching even in their violence…The deeper Landis dives into her characters’ particular passions and lunacy…the more she clarifies her characters’ lives, and our own.

—Stacy Muszynsky, The Collagist

Using pen stroke instead of brush stroke, Landis’ understated storytelling is like a painting. Character traits and experiences—and preferred cigarette brands—are conveyed by illustration rather than explanation. It is a style that turns the banal poetic, and the hair-raising mundane. In the process, Landis is afforded the space to be candid and detached. She neither reveres nor pities her characters and their sordid affairs. Outlaw behavior may be scandalous. It may be counter-culture. It may be kids being kids, or adults just trying to get by. Ultimately, she quietly reminds us that this—the “this” implied by the title—is not the domain of others. Normal people do live like this.

—Emilie Tarrant, StyleSubstanceSoul

This poignant portrait of sexual exploration gone awry leaves us aching…The stories are not just one girl’s coming of age, but how all of us come of age.

—Jennifer Wisner Kelly, Colorado Review

These interlinked stories about young women, their mothers, and lovers will stay with you long after you close this lovely pink book. Normal People Don’t Live Like This is the perfect gift for a friend with a couch, a blanket, and a Saturday afternoon.

—Nose in a Book blog

Landis has delivered with precision, honesty and art the adolescent female mind…For anyone wishing to understand those defining, and yet often lost moments, of a girl trying to leap into womanhood, this is a must read.

—Katrina Denza literary blog

Dylan Landis’s short story collection Normal People Don’t Live Like This is a stunning collection, the kind where the sentences are so rich and gorgeous you want to read them aloud to whomever you’re with.

—Rachel Kramer Bussel,

Her writing is a treat…an impressive and original collection that you’ll devour quicky but still be thinking about weeks later.

Three Good Rats blog

Every character expresses bravery and vulnerability in the same narrative moment…The writing provokes me to lunge towards my desk, and do better with my own.

—Jodi Paloni, Rigmarole