SaltWater by Lane Ashfeldt
Dublin. Liberties Press. 2014. ISBN 9781909718340
I love the ocean. I love the sea. I love the sounds, smells, and sights that abound when one sits on the beach looking out to sea. For a landlubber who has never been able to live close to the water but who adores the experience whenever it is presented, the short stories in SaltWater touched more than one nerve.
This collection of delightful tales is divided into three sections, the titles telling tales of their own before the reader even opens to the first page: Roaring Water, Slack Water, and Rising Sea Level suggest, quite aptly, the tone of each section. Roaring Water’s three short stories and one nine-line anecdote speak to the raging, unstoppable measure of Mother Nature in her liquid form. These tales are not happy ones, but neither are they sad. They are poignant and, oh, so true. Death is just one element of life, but occasionally it arrives too early, carried in by the waters of all the seas of the world.
Slack Water depicts the life changes brought about via proximity to remem-brances of the sea. Can, or should, a character leave everything behind in London to move back to the coastal village of his birth and begin a different lifestyle? Can a character lose the enchantment of a love affair in Greece after returning to Ireland with her Greek lover and seeing how he does not really suit her? And what does a transparent-sided crib in a hospital delivery ward have to do with the transparency of the sea? The answers are in this section’s stories.
The third section, Rising Sea Level, is a reference to people moving through life and their relationships centered round the sea. These could be “ordinary, everyday kinds of tales,” but the mysterious, suspenseful ambience keeps the reader on edge, expecting something without knowing what. There is an air of steady, growing tension, and the reader feels a need to read fast in order to discover the ending, commiserate with the characters, or even, possibly, join in the happiness of a joyful culmination.
As a reader, I was unable to put this collection down. I was enchanted from the first line—“So, have you made your mind up yet?”—of Lane Ashfeldt’s first story, “The Boat Trip.” I was captivated, and the author kept me captivated until the last line of the last tale, “Outer Banks Riptide”: “It is late into the night, that time after the moon is done when the stars burn brighter than ever, making little points of light in the still water ahead of her as well as in the sky above.”
Janet Mary Livesey
University of Oklahoma