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The Shell Collector: Stories Hardcover – December 25, 2001

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 219 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (December 25, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743212746
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743212748
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #118,052 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

The whorls, chambers, and ribs of the seashell are an elegance unto themselves, but if man-made beauty can come anywhere close to this, Anthony Doerr's short stories would be perfect candidates. His debut collection, The Shell Collector, sets such high standards, sentence to sentence, that it is more like the private architecture of shells than like the random borrowings, sexual details, and flashes of insight that make up the bulk of contemporary fiction. The title story is about a blind man of 58, a scholar of shells (malacology), who retires to an isolated beach-side hut in Kenya, but then accidentally discovers a cure for a major illness in the often-deadly stings of the cone snail. "The Hunter's Wife," a second small masterpiece, describes the marriage of a Montana hunter and his much younger, psychically gifted wife. There are more conventional pieces here; well-written, resonating stories that do not attempt the sweep or descriptive wealth of "The Shell Collector," although they are still at the level of the best realistic fiction that is being published now in America. --Regina Marler

From Publishers Weekly

HThe natural world exerts a powerful, brooding presence in this first collection; it's almost as much a main character as any of the individuals the 26-year-old Doerr records. Nature, in these eight stories, is mysterious and deadly, a wonder of design and of nearly overwhelming power. This delicate balance is evidenced by the title story, about a blind man who spends his days collecting rare and beautiful shell specimens. Self-exiled to the coast of Kenya, he discovers that a certain poisonous snail has the power both to kill and to effect a rapid recovery from malaria. This discovery brings him much attention but little joy, disturbing the carefully ordered universe that he has constructed to manage both his blindness and his temperament. A naturalist's perspective also informs the other stories. In "The Hunter's Wife," Doerr catalogues winter in Montana as "a thousand ladybugs hibernating in an orange ball in a riverbank hollow; a pair of dormant frogs buried in frozen mud." But Doerr can play it funny, too: in "July Fourth," a group of American fishermen endure a hilarious litany of woes in a fishing contest across Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Their troubles include much drinking, few fish and losing their shirts (and all their tackle) to a Belorussian basketball team. The title story could well appear in the next Best American or O. Henry anthologies, and the others make a fine supporting cast. Agent, Wendy Weil. (Jan. 14)Forecast: With blurbs from the likes of Rick Bass, this debut collection should do better than most, especially if reviewers take note.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Anthony Doerr has won numerous prizes for his fiction. His most recent novel, All the Light We Cannot See, was named a best book of 2014 by a number of publications, and was a #1 New York Times Bestseller. Visit him at

Customer Reviews

One of the best short story collections I've read.
S. Brita
The stories are captivating; the writing is understated, yet powerful.
Kelsey C. Barfuss
If you like short stories then this novel will not disappoint.
John I. Provan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 39 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 14, 2004
Format: Paperback
I'll keep it short and sweet. Three things make this book stand out from other short story collections:
a) It is written incredibly well. The stories flow effortlessly, are written with excellent imagery and figurative language, and invoke everything from heartache to nausea.
b) It is one of those books that you could read one time for enjoyment... or you could read it three times and dig up all the many meanings.
c) This is not your Nora Roberts soap opera. Anybody can use sex and violence to make a book captivating, but it takes a master to weave a beautiful story from something more simple. Without becoming boring, Doerr masters this.
Read it, love it, and tell your friends to do the same.
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48 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 22, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Anthony Doerr is an amazing talent. His chronological age (28) does not match his literary acumen, for here is a new writer who knows his craft so well that he is destined to be one of the more important authors of his generation ... and beyond.
In THE SHELL COLLECTOR Doerr has assembled short stories that are wide ranging in locale and in content. How he is able to convey with such clarity the terrain and atmosphere of Liberia, Finland, Bavaria, Ohio etc may be credited to his own travels, but I think it is more a credit to his gifts of creating backdrops for his dramas. The young man is so in tune with nature that in a few words he is able to descibe the advent of spring, the caustic stillness of winter, the miracles of ocean life and seeds becoming plants as well as the domain of butterflies. His characters are driven in a synchronicity with natural forces to the extent that at times we are left to ponder whether the human with a name is more the main character than the land wherein he dwells.
Another aspect of the excitement these stories generate lies in the incredible tales themselves. There are no usual rehashs of familiar prototypes: each story is a cosmos rarely explored. Combine the magic of his limitless imagination with the glory of his writing skills and see if you don't agree that this is a Major New Voice in American literature. One waits for an extended novel without any concomittent fear that he will be able to produce it. Bravo!
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 27, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you were to tell me that The Shell Collector features mostly stories about people who find majesty, wonder, awe, and rejuvenation through the Mystery of Nature, I would roll my eyes and dismiss the story collection as a precious sentimental meditation on the natural world worthy of a Hallmark Card. However, the aforementioned themes are rendered with expertise, vigor, and indeed pure poetic prose so that even a cynic like myself was able to surrender to Doerr's magical stories. Here are some highlights:

1. The Shell Collector: A scientist who collects shells lives like a hermit in a isolated coastal land in Kenya where he discovers an elixir, derived from a sea snail, which forces him to contemplate the manner in which civilization usurps all of nature's wonders for its commercial purposes.

2. The Hunter's Wife: A man takes his wife into the barren wilderness where she eventually leaves him to pursue a career as a celebrity New Age figure.

3. The Caretaker: An African refugee who has seen unspeakable evil during civil war and has been coerced into doing something that violates his conscience moves to an ocean house in Oregon where he learns, through the help of a young woman, to find his redemption.

4. Mkondo: A white fossil hunter goes to Tanzania where he becomes obsessed with a young African woman whom he marries and takes back to Ohio. There the woman languishes in despair until she finds her vocation in photography, which brings her closer to nature.

Over and over again, Doerr pits the vulgarity and soul-sapping forces of civilization with the pure spiritual powers of nature as his characters attempt to straddle both worlds.

For a thematic companion to Doerr's stories, you might want to look into the 1971 film masterpiece, set in Australia, called The Walkabout, which wonderfully is now available on DVD.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By John Van Wagner on December 30, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Man and nature. Writers have struggled to make sense of this tortured relationship since the beginning of literature. Lesser authors might shy away from attempts to tread the same hallowed ground explored by titans like Hemingway, Steinbeck or Faulkner. But Anthony Doerr, in "The Shell Collector," succeeds on his own quiet and gentle merits in portraying the pathos of human beings separated from their natural selves by the forces of civilization.

By and large each story here is a gem, revolving around a central, singular, simple character with a magical nature. In the title story, a blind recluse in the south seas becomes an unlikely and reluctant healing guru by way of a heretofore venemous shellfish. Doerr renders the man's heartache with graceful, stunning empathy as his life careens away from him, and then circles around and back, a necessary cycle of pain and redemption.

The rest of the book opens up the themes introduced with such loving artistry in the first story. "The Hunter's Wife" and "Mkondo" both weave tales about women separated by marriage from their true selves like Persephone from Demeter, living with men whose love they accept, but live to regret. In "Mkondo", the bride, removed from her home in sub-Sarahan Africa, laments of her new environment: "Nothing grew, nothing lived; even the light seemed dead, falling from naked bulbs screwed into the ceiling." From her musings Doerr evokes the vision of a vibrant, colorful plant dessicating under false sunlight.

The most powerful and and haunting story of the collection is "The Caretaker." A refugee from the Liberian civil war loses his mother and his way of life, washes up on the shores of Oregon, and carves out a new existence for himself on the inhospitable grounds of a software mogul's estate.
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