What is normal?
I remember pondering this question when, in my younger days, I spent a great deal of time trying to fit in with the norm. I grew up in safe, predictable, white bread suburbia and it turned out that I was anything but normal.
Still, I tried to ignore my nonconformity to the social norms around me and continued to try and fit it, to try and assimilate myself into the society around me which constantly reminded me that I would never fit in, I would never be normal.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized what being normal meant. It meant being myself, regardless of what others thought of me. It meant being myself, despite an unyielding urge to confine myself to social expectations. It meant that, despite those who told me otherwise, I was normal. Something I still struggle with today.
Which is probably why Being Normal, the debut collection of short stories by Stephen Shieber, struck such a powerful, personal chord with me.
Being Normal consists of fourteen different stories that touch on issues all of us have faced at certain points in our life: Love, lust, sex, acceptance, families, friendship, companionship, the need to fit in, the need to belong.
It also touches on the darker issues of life and doesn’t shy away from subjects such as cutting, self harm, homosexuality, abuse, religion. That it doesn’t shy away from any of these issues, but yet confronts them head on is testament to Shieber’s power as a writer.
Though the stories seem simple, that is their power. They are like short pieces of a persons life, as if we are being granted access to private memories and events. At first, this is all they seem like, simple, quirky stories.
But they are more than that.
They are individual works of such beauty, such power, that they will haunt you for days after you have finished reading them. I found myself being reminded of events from my own childhood, from my own past. Events that made me who I am today.
Though the stories are all separate, I felt as if I was looking into a small neighbourhood of people who were trying to find themselves. Though unconnected, I felt as if I were amongst people who knew each other and they were all trying to find themselves in the world.
And I was one of them.
It is hard to believe that this is Shieber’s first collection of stories. He writes with strength and style that is missing from many writers today. He is also responsible for the rejuvenation of the short story. After reading the stories in Being Normal, I want to read more, experience more. He has made the mundane, the normal, amazing.
That is essentially the power of the stories in Being Normal. You don’t read them so much as you experience them. One beautiful word at a time.
Being Normal is one of the best books that I have read in years and one that I know I will revisit again and again.