I finished Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories on Sunday, and now, four days later, I still don’t know how I feel about the book. I wasn’t bowled over by it, but I couldn’t put it down. An interesting contradiction, no? The book opens in England with three different “case histories” or stories of families experiencing some kind of traumatic loss of a family member, and then it jumps forward to the present and where all of these families are now. One has shattered completely and has no contact with each other, and in another, there are a lingering two sisters who manage the burden of their history by squabbling with each other.
In the middle of all of this is a private investigator, Jackson, who is dealing with his own fractured family (his wife has left him for another man, and is threatening to move with his daughter to New Zealand). He receives calls about all three families who would like to find out “the truth” surrounding their respective tragedies, and we all know the truth can lead to no good, so of course, someone begins trying to kill Jackson.
And yet through all this darkness and tragedy, the book maintains a very glib, we’re-fucked-up-and-yet-this-is-how-we-do tone. The reader is never really given a chance to dwell on the sadness within these people’s lives for more than a page at a time, which I was a bit taken off-guard by. The book doesn’t fit into the thriller mystery category because Jackson is all, “Oh, someone cut my brake lines. Not sure what’s up with that,” and it’s also not a deep sad book out to make you a better person. Based on the quote on the cover, though, Stephen King thought the book kicked ass, and I’m still trying to figure out why because I didn’t go right to that conclusion- and I still haven’t arrived at it after four days.
Maybe the best summary of my thoughts on Case Histories is that yesterday when I was at my used bookstore haunt, I came across the next Atkinson book, which also features Jackson on clearance for $2.00, and I didn’t immediately snatch it up. But I also didn’t discount it for a future read because Stephen King’s been right about a lot of things in his day. Like twin girls having the capability to be terrifying. Or Kujo. Also terrifying.