In the preface of the book the author says:

My life is precariously normal.

Does he mean his life is suspiciously normal and its all greatness may collapse in any moment? By reading the previous and next sentences I get this impression that he means he doesn't take the his life normalcy for granted or he takes it with a grain of salt. Am I right?

Another possible connotation that strikes my mind is the fact that the author may have used the adverb precariously as an emphatic or intensifier modifier.

Precariously: in a way that is likely to fall, be damaged, fail, etc.

Cambridge Dictionary

4 Answers 4


His life is alarmingly normal.

His life is dangerously normal.

He has everything an average person would long for: a family, a wife, three daughters. However, he doesn't describe them vividly or enthusiastically. There is no "little beautiful girls" or "a lovely wife". I feel like his outstanding and decent aren't sincere at all. He doesn't tell how happy he is, how consummate his life is. Instead, he narrates the story in bleak colours:

Nothing is wrong with my life.

I am not unhappy.

which gives you a scintilla of anxiety: Is he really happy? Is he truly passionate about all these things in his life? Does he have everything he wants? Is "normal life" the thing he is striving for?

  • Thank you, I felt the same way you described after reading the paragraph.
    – Cardinal
    Mar 10, 2019 at 17:45

"Precarious" and "normal" are not two words that you would usually put together, but the juxtaposition of two seemingly contradictory things can be read as funny or clever or both, depending on the context. "Precariously normal" suggests that (as you guessed) his life is continually on the verge of becoming abnormal.

This kind of contradiction also creates a sort of dramatic tension, so we can assume the writer is about to describe his life in some detail. It would be awkward for the writer to just drop something like this in a story without adding the supporting context.

To give another example. Suppose, say, there is a guy who builds a wall, and he goes on and on about how it's a really great wall, the best wall, how it would stop anyone from crossing it, and how it would be the ultimate protection. It would be, he said, like a "solid steel barricade".

And then videos appear showing hundreds of people easily crossing over the wall with ladders, or cutting through it, or digging under it. In response someone writes:

"Solid steel"? Looks more like a tissue paper barricade to me.

By itself a "tissue paper barricade" obviously means the barricade is not effective at what it's supposed to do, but it's not funny or clever (or possibly just stupid and insipid) without the context to explain the contrast.

  • Thanks, the wall analogy was interesting to read though!
    – Cardinal
    Mar 10, 2019 at 17:41

I think you were right with the reading "suspiciously normal". That makes sense in the context of his story and fits general usage. Precariously could not be used for emphasis in this context, because as you note, precariously suggests abnormality. For an adverb to act as an intensifier the adverb needs to mean roughly the same thing as the word it's emphasizing.


As others have said, dangerously normal. In context he is saying that it is abnormally normal. This doesn’t mean that he is in imminent danger of it becoming abnormal or exciting, just the opposite — he’s afraid if he doesn’t take action it will continue being absolutely normal and forgettable. That his life is in danger of being meaningless both to him and the world at large.

He is giving his initial justification for going AWOL, which he continues in the next sentence by admitting it may be irresponsible but defending it by saying his parents have both recently had life threatening conditions.

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