Set in her native Cornwall, Lucy Wood’s debut short story collection, Diving Belles, has been drawing comparisons to the likes of Aimee Bender and Karen Russell. Though it’s easy to see why — the twelve stories in this collection are at turns whimsical, dark, and ethereal, drawing heavily on oral storytelling traditions and local folklore — Wood has her own unique style that differentiates her contemporaries.
If there’s one thing Wood truly excels at, it’s creating atmosphere. Most of the strange stories in the collection are related to the ocean and the salty, damp areas nestled against it (as an aside, I really do wish the cover featured more of a sea theme, as it would have been more appropriate). The title story, for instance, features a woman whose husband was lured away by mermaids. Apparently it’s a common enough problem, and with the help of a local business specializing in such retrievals, she goes down into the ocean in a diving belle in hopes of finding her husband.
The rest of the stories are equally strange: one features a sentient house that watches over its inhabitants over the years, noting their behaviors and worrying over any negligence of the property. Another story (one of my favorites) features a woman slowly turning to stone; she’s trying to get all her loose ends of her day-to-day life wrapped up before she becomes a statue for an undetermined amount of time. Yet another features a dead seaman living in a couple’s home, bringing with him sea water and other oceanic things.
Wood writes beautifully, yet at times I felt she put too much emphasis on establishing tone and atmosphere, and not enough on plot. I usually don’t mind this type of writing, but there were a few stories in this collection where I felt like she could have taken it a little further, and instead just trailed off. Granted, I’m not familiar with any of the mythology that she uses in her stories; it would be interesting to get some back story and see how she puts her twist on things. She’s certainly a writer to keep an eye on in the future.
Diving Belles was released on August 7, 2012 by Mariner Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. This book is on tour right now, so check out what other bloggers are saying about it.