If I had known that Landis's recently-released novel Rainey Royal developed out of her earlier story collection, Normal People, I would have read them in chronological order. Reading Rainey first, though, worked just fine.
WELL. I fell in love by page 2 of Rainey with Landis's style- understated but strong, jaded but hopeful, controlled and confident. The stories in Normal People are written with that same wonderful voice, which draws you in to each of the main characters until you feel like you're a part of their lives. While Landis focuses mostly on the angsty teenage years of Leah Levinson, who grows up in 1970s New York, she occasionally veers off into other characters' minds, such as Leah's mother, her friend Oly's older sister Pansy, and Rainey herself.
These stories are windows into the world of a highly-anxious, compulsive, shy Jewish girl whose bright red hair and height make her even more awkward and anxious to hide. Nonetheless, she befriends the two daughters of a writer and starts smoking cigarettes and wearing fishnet stockings. Leah befriends a girl whose intensity sucks her in and makes her do anything the girl asks. She is tormented in school by Rainey and her best friend Chris. Her mother's dieting and her father's illness weigh on her mind. But through it all, Leah trains herself to face the world a little more each day, befriending people who are her opposite in temperament and even flying off to Paris with a man she barely knows, just because the opportunity presented itself.
Previously published in journals like the Colorado Review and Tin House, the stories in Normal People together reveal a uniquely fascinating set of characters. Landis is a writer to watch.