Welcome to Normal, by Nick Earls

‘Craig, hi,’ Don said, stepping forward and reaching out his hand. ‘Don Nordenstrom. Welcome to Normal.’ He said it as if Normal was just any other name on the map. Welcome to Paxton, welcome to Peoria. The weirdness of welcoming someone to normal had long ago rubbed away.

Being welcomed to Normal is just one of the wonderful quirky moments in this collection of eight short stories from Queenl;and’s Nick Earls. The settings and situations vary – often far from normal as the protagonists travel far from home to explore their own or their travel mates’ pasts, experiencing moments which could be ordinary but manage not to be. Though each story is unique, recurrent motifs of travel, self-discovery and relationship problems travel across stories. Some stories are seen through the eyes of young protagonists watching their parents’ tempted to infidelity and revisiting the places of their yuth.

A favourite story for me was The Heart of Robert the Bruce with a couple travelling through Spain, alleviating the difficulty of being mismatched with another couple as travel partners and so challenging each other to introduce outrageous yet plausible lies into dinner table conversation. Watching the lies grow at the same time as the protagonists’ understanding of their own relationship is both fun and moving, and a lie involving Karen the GPS voice was a highlight.

Welcome to Normal is a wonderful blend of everyday, quirky and thought-provoking.

Welcome to Normal

Welcome to Normal, by Nick Earls
Vintage, 2012
ISBN 9781864711547

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