What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us
Laura van den Berg, Scribe
“Where We Must Be” is the standout story of this impressive debut collection.
The narrator, Jean, is a struggling actor who dresses up as Bigfoot — scaring paid visitors to a North Carolina nature park.
Her boyfriend and neighbour, Jimmy, has given up being a postman after a fatal spot was found on his lungs. His dying wish has been to travel to the Grand Canyon and to stay until he is no longer impressed with the view.
Jean believes he will never take the trip because of fear: “For him it was better to not know what the Grand Canyon was like, to retain the splendour of his dreams.”
Jean is candid about the fact that Jimmy would love her and only her for the rest of his life. “He will die loving me,” she says. “By default, of course — he doesn’t have the time to find someone else. But if I could grant him more years, enough time to make it likely that he would abandon me for another woman, I would do it.”
This is a wonderfully evocative story about the nature of love in a collection that sweeps like a searchlight over intimate relationships and their inevitable conundrums.
The title story, for example, is about a mother and daughter who visit Madagascar. The daughter aspires to be a distance swimmer. The mother, a leading expert on primate habits, does not believe her daughter will go far — especially not without her.
“Strangeness is everywhere and everything makes you tired in the end,” the mother says. “When you figure this out, you’ll be back.”
There is wisdom beyond the author’s years in these stories plus a deft eye and way with words.
Replete with rare flower and Loch Ness monster searchers, a mugged mistress and an orphan boy obsessed by a hole in the road, this varied — but strangely cohesive — collection is guaranteed to make you think and feel.
It’s no surprise to me that the book was shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award 2010 as its author has a strong voice and a good heart.
A very fine debut indeed!