This past week I saw David Sedaris at The Egg in Albany, NY. I appreciate not only how he engages with his fans, but also that he promotes other authors. His support of other writers encouraged me to leap into doing something I have wanted to do for a long time. This week I’m testing my fingers at a book review. I don’t like most critiques or reviews because I think they’re dry and feel as if the person who is writing them is bored with life. So, I’m going to share something I loved to read, and I’m doing it my way.
Like many booknerds, I get excited when someone recommends a book then repeats the title over and over again to make sure it’s sunk in. That’s how I learned about The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr. A young woman half my age attending a writing workshop with me over the summer looked me square in the eye and told me I had to read it. I added it to my list of must-reads right away. Once I looked up the author, I realized I’d read Doerr’s novel All the Light We Cannot See and loved it, but I loved this book even more.
The Shell Collector is a collection of eight short stories. It was recommended to me because I love nature and how people engage with it. The environment and human interaction with it are the threads running through all the stories. They span the globe from Africa to Montana, but every story has a touch of magical realism and nature magic. Each piece stands alone with power and sensory details that made it hard to put down.
My favorite of the stories was The Hunter’s Wife. I could feel the cold of the mountains and the cabin fever. The hunter stalked his future wife, who was a magician’s assistant. She was fifteen to his thirty when they met, and he would visit her each winter when her show came to town until she was of age and he could move her to his remote cabin in the woods. She brought her form of magic while he continued his life as if he was still a bachelor working his long days as a hunting and fishing guide. The turmoil and pain and cold that the two endure together is tactile. I loved it.
Each story carried me away to a different season and part of the world. Each had a piece of heartbreak, which gave it a vulnerable and endearing quality. The book came out in 2002, and I’m sorry it took me so long to find it.
People who want a straightforward plot with typical characters won’t like it. The characters are complicated, and it’s a quiet read. That doesn’t take away any of its power, but if you’re looking for something loud and packed with dialog or simple people, this isn’t the book for you. Honestly, I’m the worst person to recommend a book like that.