Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Saltwater by Lane Ashfeldt

Saltwater by Lane Ashfeldt  (2013)

Saltwater by Lane Ashfeldt is a unique collection of short works of fiction, all inspired by the sea.  Ashfeldt, who was born in London to Irish parents but grew up by the sea in Dublin, understands as well as any writer I know of how a proximity to the ocean can permeate the mind. 

 It is as if next to your mundane limited life is something of great power and beauty which can destroy in a capricious or peevish moment.  I think the Irish psyche has been deeply affected by the Island nature of the country and the proximity of the ocean.  In Irish history, the ocean was the source of food, took people out of the country forever when times were bad, and was a wild power beyond human control.   It is these impulses that Ashfeldt deals with in the amazing stories in Saltwater.

 I do not especially like posts on anthologies of short stories that just rave on about them in general.  When I visit a forest I do not just like to see the trees, I like to see the moss that grows on them, the vines that climb them and listen to the birds that make them their home.  I like to peel the bark from the trees to see the insects that bore into the trees, I like to study their roots.   There are lots of different types of forests. ( I love tropical rain forests)  Our forest here is far from tropical, the trees stand alone on barren cliffs, the wind howls and with one wrong step you will be in the waves, maybe you will survive if you are lucky but you will always be a little afraid.

I will post on half of the stories in the collection then upon completing this I will attempt to say why I like Saltwater by Lane Ashfeldt so much.   

" 'So, have you made your mind up yet?'

'About what?'
'About the boat trip on Sunday, what else?' "

"The Boat Trip", the lead story in the collection, is a perfect specimen of the short story tellers art.   It is beautifully evokes the feel of living by the sea, something I have done.  It also lets us see how dangerous the sea can be.   It is  very much about the eternal problem that anyone with teenagers (I have three teenage daughters) has.  How do you gradually let them develop a sense of independence and freedom while protecting them from evils and dangers you see and they do not?  There is a horrible sadness, the kind you will never escape from in this story. I will let you discover the plot for yourself.  Ashfeldt does a perfect job of letting us see the sad development of a life time of pain and regret.  

"Neap Tide" 

neap tide n. A tide that occurs when the difference between high and low tide is least; the lowest level of high tide.

Before I read this great story about the tides that flow up and down in our relationships, I am pretty sure I had never come across  the term "neap tide".   This a girl meets  exotic beautiful man from a Greek Isle who to her represents everything Ireland (and I guess Irish men) is not.  "When she fell for Panos,she had also fallen for his country--the endless sun, the golden siestas, the sparkly silver-blue Aegean.  She wanted it all".  He also sees her as different from the women he is accustomed to.  I admit I did not much like him when he said he hated books.  He comes across to me as a man that preys on tourist women.  They are on a ferry from the U.K. (I think) to Dublin.   She grew up in Dublin and her parents live there but she does not really know the city at all.    When they are in Athens it is Panos that drives them around, back in Dublin he is her passenger.   I think she begins to not seem different to him when he is surrounded by all sorts of other Irish women, he begins, for the first time, to bore her.  We can see the relationship decline, the excitement is gone on both sides.  Relationships built on titillation and novelty don't normally endure more than a few comings of the tides and this story wonderfully illustrates that point.


"Sorcha and TJ go on holiday somewhere hot and try to forget.  They stay in an ochre town built on an estuary that empties into a warm, calm sea.  Neither of them understands the language spoken here".

As the story opens we meet Sorcha during a prenatal examination in which she is viewing her baby on a
sonogram for the first time.   She is trying to feel maternal but she feels more dread than anything else.  They are trying to get used to the baby idea while on vacation.   We are with the couple as they go back to London.   We listen in as they talk about the baby and we just know the woman is not happy.   We know deep down if we go that far that all life came from the sea and the baby exists in kind of a sea for nine months before being born.   The ending of the story is very complex and deeply evocative of many core myths.

"Pole House"

"Pole House" is set in Piha, New Zealand.  Piha is a small beach community that is a major day-trip for people from Auckland.  It is considered a place of great tropical beauty.  The story is told by a woman, her age is hard to fix but she has grown twins, living in a pole house with a man who makes surf sculptures.  A surf sculpture is made out of drift wood and  the man does well selling his creations.   She can hear the distant roar of the surf and has a glimpse of the ocean.   Some days she walks down to the ocean but today she needs to get away.   Kate was attracted to him because even though "He might be quiet and shy, but he not only  planned up wild schemes, he created them.  Lived them".   Kate used to love the pole house (built up in the canopy of the rain forest but now it feels like a prison to her.   We go along with Kate on her journey into the town, it is pretty much your standard beach community.   She stops in at an internet cafe and  she begins to talk a man who works there, I think, about upgrading her laptop mobile internet.   You can see she is enjoying talking to the man, semi-flirting with him but has no plans to take it further.   "Pole House" is a great story about living in isolation in a strange house in  a place of great natural beauty.

"Roaring Water Bay"

Most of the stories in the collection are 12 to 18 pages long.  This remarkable story is only one page.  It is about Auntie Rose,  born in 1892 and just buried.   It speaks deeply of the social mores of the era and place and I will leave it unspoiled.  Like the other stories, it is very related to the sea.

In all there are 12 stories in SaltWater. The period is from the first world war to the present day, with settings that range from Ireland to New Zealand, taking in stories set in Haiti, on the Irish Sea, and on the Greek Islands

Saltwater is a beautiful collection of short stories, all tied in, each story in a different way to one of the primordial human symbols, the sea.

The collection is available as a Kindle edition (at a very fair price)

You can learn more about Lane Ashfeldt and her work on her very well done web site.

I agree completely with this

“With crystalline prose, in sentence by neat sentence, Lane Ashfeldt tells her stories of love, wavering trust and loss. The sea shimmers through SaltWater, as threatening and beautiful as many of the characters who walk the pages. A gorgeous collection by a bright talent.” Nuala Ní Chonchúir

Author Data

Lane Ashfeldt is an award-winning short story writer, and a Dubliner. Her short fiction has been published in literary journals across Ireland, England, Greece and the US, and published in anthologies from ‘Punk Fiction’ to the rather more genteel ‘Dancing With Mr Darcy’. Her book of short stories, SaltWater (2013) has been called: A gorgeous collection by a bright talent.” (Nuala Ní Chonchúir) and A superb collection of powerful and evocative stories 
-Danielle McLaughlin

I endorse this collection of short stories to any an all lovers of the form.  Her stories go all over the world from Ireland, Greece, England, Haiti and New Zealand.  Ashfeldt has a lived experience of much of the places she writes about and it shows in her amazing stories,


@parridhlantern said...

being a child of the seashore myself (S.E/ UK Coast) I can understand how the sea becomes a part of you psyche, almost the old adage of salt water in your blood & how when away from it for a while slowly becomes an awareness that something is missing. Then when you return & get that first whiff of ozone......

Rachel Fenton said...

Saltwater's a brilliant collection, Mel, and I very much enjoyed your review of it.