Valerie Martin’s latest book, Sea Lovers: Selected Stories, features previously published works that span her career. The twelve stories in this collection usually start out firmly based in moody realism, then end up taking a couple of steps into dark whimsy. They’re organized into three different themes: animals, art, and transformation.
Content-wise, the first section, “Among the Animals,” was probably the most difficult for me to get through (and yet I couldn’t look away). Let’s just say that nature — human nature, animal nature, life in general — is not terribly kind, and Martin explores this theme from different angles. The first story in the collection, “Spats,” is an excellent example not just of the section on animals, but of the atmosphere of book as a whole. In it, the narrator is struggling to move on after the break-up of her marriage. Her husband has left her for another woman and is in the process of settling into his new life, so she spends her days dreaming of ways to get revenge.
The second part of the book is “Among the Artists,” and features one of my favorite stories in the collection. The narrator, Maxwell, now a modestly successful author, has returned home to New Orleans for one of his infrequent visits. He learns that Rita, The One Who Got Away, is also now living back in New Orleans; they run into each other and she asks him for a favor. Their past unfolds, and although Maxwell is now the more successful one, back in their MFA writing program, it was always obvious that Rita was the more talented one.
But of all the stories, my favorite appears in the final section of the book, “Metamorphoses.” The title story is by far the most fantastical of the bunch. A mermaid turns up on a beach, and its contact with people challenges every preconception you probably have about mermaids. This mermaid is no Ariel.
I had never read any of Martin’s work before, so I was thrilled to find a “new” author who dabbles in the macabre. It’s a gorgeous book that you’ll want to take your time with.
Sea Lovers: Selected Stories was published in August 2015 by Nan A. Talese.
Interested? You might also like:
- The Miniature Wife and Other Stories by Manuel Gonzalez
- Galore by Michael Crummey
- The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan
- The Color Master: Stories by Aimee Bender