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Sea Lovers: Selected Stories Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 18, 2015
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"Martin’s prose is lucid, and she avoids stylistic pyrotechnics. Her primary aim is to allow her characters their contradictory feelings, giving them room to breathe ... Martin’s complex and wonderful stories, with their careful rendering and sober insights, offer their own kind of relief for the reader: This book is a long, cool drink of water."
—New York Times Book Review
"Valerie Martin is a consummate stylist. A cool, spare writer who can make the fantastic utterly, often horribly believable ... In her latest collection of 12 short stories that gift is on full display. A mermaid washes ashore, with murderous intent. A magical suitor displays bad behavior, as do all sorts of more realistic lovers and spouses, artists and writers. Most often, the stories resolve with a twist—some tragic, some simply odd—that causes them to linger in the reader’s mind: cautionary tales about the mysteries of life."
"Whether they’re self-absorbed painters, deserted women, or even centaurs, Martin’s characters are torn between the facades they don and the baser, more animalistic impulses—the needs for power, attention, and revenge—that animate them ... an insightful look into the evolution of Martin’s writing and her talent for depicting our darker natures. Varied, engaging, and often shocking."
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"This collection is rife with the unspoken cracks between people, and leaves a haunting, lingering impression."
About the Author
VALERIE MARTIN is the author of ten novels, including The Ghost of the Mary Celeste, The Confessions of Edward Day, Trespass, Mary Reilly, Italian Fever, and Property; three collections of short fiction; and a biography of Saint Francis of Assisi, titled Salvation. She has been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as the Kafka Prize (for Mary Reilly) and Britain's Orange Prize (for Property).
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Back in my heyday we had a line that we'd say to wrap up a story: "They all became strippers and died." In many cases, the author seemed to end her works in this way as if she were bored with the story and wanted to move on. This happens, that happens and BOOM, the end. These are not short stories in many cases, they are ideas and concepts which could easily become novels. Some border on science fiction or fantasy, others could be classified as literature. Some are far too long and could be easily chopped in half.
I found the title story to be a little odd, written in a different style and ironically did not seem to fit with the rest. The best story by far was "His Blue Period" as it felt the most real for me. The worst was "The Unfinished Novel" which weaved to and fro until it's incredibly unsatisfying ending: we never get even a glimpse of the novel in question and it is literally buried. ( I'd sure have written a different ending for that one!)
Don't get me wrong, it's quality writing and that kept me in the game. I never had the urge to walk away from her works, but overall felt like this is an author who is emerging (though I know this isn't the case), still honing not her writing skills, but her story creation skills. The concepts were 50/50 for me, I liked about half of these.
Three generous stars.
The business with death and animals and yes, so often, dead animals put me somewhat on edge as a reader. It didn't take too long for me, as a reader, to root for any animal in any story - the rabbits in "His Blue Period", the hapless mare who becomes an amorous target for a centaur in "Et in Acadiana Ego", to just run away! Run away, because if you stick around with this author, it's not ending well for you. (And actually - spoiler alert! - the bunnies turned out fine. Well, not as long-lived as their human companion, but such is the fate of a bunny.)
My favorite story would have to be "The Change", possibly because the story's theme has some intersection with recent events in my own life. The fanciful notion of "The Change" being indeed a shocking and supernatural metamorphosis is a captivating one, dulled somewhat in effect only because the wife in the story is drawn as rather unsympathetic and fairly opaque, a necessity perhaps for a story with the kind of "payoff" that is its conclusion. Well, at least this one *had* a conclusion. (Martin has a penchant for leaving off with no resolution. In terms of evolution of the short story form I get it, although I don't have to like it.)
My least favorite story in the collection was the eponymous one, "Sea Lovers". It's short and chillingly visceral, and both these things are okay in my book, but being doggedly literal I still can't figure out why the mermaid needed to do what she evidently was instinctually programmed to do. "Because, Sirens! And mythology!" just doesn't quite cut it for me.
My last short story collection was "Black Glass" by Karen Joy Fowler (who I've only just discovered), and I'll admit that the anthology set the bar kind of high for me. Ms. Martin is no slouch even in comparison, but I just don't feel the same affinity for her brand of existential alienation and nature's push-pull of exhilaration and horror that is the life/death cycle, as I do for writers who actually do (at least somewhat) tie things up in "neat little bows", to put the pejorative spin on it.
I had not heard of Valerie Martin before reading this collection. I will probably search out some of her other short stories. I am very glad to have made her acquaintance.
The book is composed of 12 stories written over a long stretch of time in the author's career, some previously published, a few new ones. What I will say is that the writing(the craft part) is definitely high quality. It's just that the stories I read were lackluster at best in the storytelling department. I wanted to like this collection as much as I liked the artwork on the cover but I just didn't.
Three stars for quality writing.