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What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us: Stories Paperback – October 1, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In her affecting debut collection, van den Berg taps into her characters' losses with an impressive clarity. Each of these stories is meticulously crafted, and often the protagonist is recovering emotionally from a staggering life's blow. In Goodbye My Loveds, two siblings are reeling from the death of their parents, scientists fatally snake-bitten in the Amazon; a sister leaves college to take care of her 12-year-old brother and recognizes the need to suppress her own needs in order to help her brother face their new lives. In the beautifully elegiac Where We Must Be, a failed actress gives up on L.A. and finds work as Bigfoot in a theme park; her love affair with a young neighbor dying of cancer underscores the preciousness of time's passing. In the title story, a young woman learns to face her fears while spending time with her scientist mother observing endangered lemurs in Madagascar. These tales are the work of a notable author finding her voice. (Oct.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Lonely, abandoned, and adrift young women undertake missions esoteric, ludicrous, and risky in van den Berg’s exceptional debut. As compelling as her characters and their predicaments are, it’s van den Berg’s startling insights into the alliance between the human psyche and the mysteries of nature in a time of environmental mayhem that give these short stories their glimmering power. Jean, an aspiring and desperate young actor, plays Bigfoot in a renegade recreational park. Shelby tries to care for her increasingly bizarre little brother after their famous scientist parents die in the Amazon while searching for the “sasquatch of Brazil.” Botanist Emily searches for a rare wildflower in Inverness. Catherine is in the Congo where war, AIDS, and floods conjure up the lake monster mokele mbembe. A man searches for the mishegenabeg, the legendary giant serpent of the Great Lakes. A teenager dreams of becoming a long-distance swimmer as her scientist mother comes undone while studying the doomed lemurs in Madagascar’s pillaged forests. Van den Berg summons monsters born of awe, fear, and guilt, while her burdened but determined characters struggle in a sea of need and indifference. Stunning, desolate, and unforgettable. --Donna Seaman
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 205 pages
  • Publisher: Dzanc Books (October 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0976717778
  • ISBN-13: 978-0976717775
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.7 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #173,645 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Laura van den Berg was raised in Florida and earned her M.F.A. at Emerson College. Her first collection of stories, WHAT THE WORLD WILL LOOK LIKE WHEN ALL THE WATER LEAVES US (Dzanc Books, 2009), was a Barnes & Noble "Discover Great New Writers" selection. Her second collection of stories, THE ISLE OF YOUTH, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in November 2013, won the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters and The Bard Fiction Prize, and was named a "Best Book of 2013" by over a dozen venues, including NPR, The Boston Globe, and O, The Oprah Magazine. Both collections were shortlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. Her first novel, FIND ME, is out from FSG in February 2015. The recipient of a 2014 O. Henry Award, Laura currently lives in the Boston area and is a Writer-in-Residence at Bard College.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Not long after picking up this debut collection I was lucky enough to hear the author read aloud the first story and to see the way it hit her audience: at times they were spellbound, at others uproarious, but entirely rapt throughout. That's exactly how I felt when I first encountered these deeply moving, startlingly original, uncommonly sensitive stories. There is an emotional thread stitched expertly through this book - people gut-punched by life trying to get back their breath - but that's not all that holds the collection together. Here, the mythical mingles with the mundane, outlandish creatures work their way into the lives of characters who feel anything but. Whether writing about a failed actress who impersonates Big Foot by day and tends to a dying lover by night, or a girl who learns to know herself through her mother's obsession with the lemurs of Madagascar, van den Berg manages to pull off the near miraculous: stories so strange and beautiful I felt like I'd been pulled out of the world I know, and yet, somehow, by the end, came away knowing not only more about the world, but about myself.
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"It was late, 4 A.M., and I'd just finished the story for the third time. I turned back to the title page, "We Are Calling to Offer You a Fabulous Life," and just sat there, not thinking of anything in particular. Instead, I sat there in the sleeping house, doing my best to chain-smoke myself into a coma, and rolled the feeling of the story back and forth. It was smooth and delicate, with just the right pacing, nothing too high or low. It was the delicacy that grabbed me. Laura van den Berg certainly has hands for the delicate things -- things like longing and loss and being compassless in a strange land -- things that any writer with clumsier hands destroys in the telling."
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Perhaps one of the core narratives through this collection is love, lost love, women trying to own their lives through the natural and cultural world after relationships go south for any number of reasons. But that's too simplistic. The quasi fantastical and mythic search for mystery larger than us, and in the world around us, is brought down to human size, with all the misery, desire, loss, and uncertainty attached. These characters are human, rich and earthy. A solid debut collection.
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These stories have a perfect mix of the strange and the intimate ordinariness of character lives. Some have more bizarreness than others, but always the right amount. The best aspect of these stories, though, is the subtlety of the emotions. The emotion is always there, and you can always feel exactly what the message is through what the character is feeling, but it isn't crassly articulated. Pressed, I'm not sure I could articulate it myself. Instead, I just sat back after reading each story and knew I got it (whether or not what I got was what was intended).
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Van den Berg's stories, true to the collection's title, have elements of water running throughout. Hannah Tinti's claim that she "finds the tension between science and magic and walks it like a tightrope" is very misleading. Her stories, while utilizing exotic travels to Africa ("The Rain Season") and South America (title story and "goodbye my loveds") and the people and creatures that dwell there , should not be confused for "magic".

Her main characters, all female, carry the same voice regardless of who they are, what age they are, and how they are feeling. Van den Berg seems to lack the ability to fully form her characters, and instead they seem to be mere versions of herself. And she must be boring.

Van den Berg utilizes exotic places, animals, and customs to try to hide the fact that the stories and characters themselves are flat, underdeveloped, trite, and dull. Her attempts to display "the human condition" are often cliched and overdone. An older woman haves an affair with a younger man, a failed actress wanders to a strange place trying to find herself, many women nurse broken hearts, and so on....

For more of this review, and other modern fiction reviews, go to : [...]
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When i discovered the first story in this collection was about a bigfoot impersonator, i expected absurdism. I expected to laugh. What i got was somber, tender, poignant. I was hooked.

The stories that follow are filled with cryptozoological beasts -- The Loch Ness Monster, mokele-mbembe, mishegenabeg, undiscovered primates -- yet these creatures remain on the peripheries, as elusive as the sense of human connection for which the characters search. These stories are really about loss of relationship, impending loss and its aftermath. We all want to know why it didn't work out. There are no answers here, but van den Berg forges a sense of connection through her work.

I was suprised to read on the backcover that this is a debut collection. The prose here is as polished as you'll find anywhere. The stories are beautiful, original and masterfully told. I'm looking forward to more.
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These stories are full of subtle parallels. Besides images of water, there are also mentions of or allusions to cryptids (the Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot and his South American cousins, Mokele-mbembe, etc.). Though these creatures never actually appear in the stories (at least, not literally--in one story the protagonist is a professional Bigfoot impersonator) they inform the human drama of the stories, in which people are often disappearing from the characters' lives. Parents die under mysterious circumstances in a faraway rainforest. A husband abandons his wife in Paris. These losses leave mythic-sized wholes in the lives of those left behind, and this is often the conflict the stories hinge on: brutal and tragic but also often funny.
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