Staff Pick: Anthony Doerr’s Short Stories

October 24, 2010 // Filed under Blog

If you are looking for highly inventive, finely executed writing,  give Anthony Doerr’s books a try.  Doerr’s first publication was a set of short stories, The Shell Collector, which came out to positive reviews in 2002.  Subsequent to that, he published the nonfiction work, Four Seasons in Rome, and a novel, About Grace. He continues to write for such magazines as McSweeney’s, Orion, and Zoetrope: All-Story. and has just published a second collection of short fiction entitled Memory Wall: stories.  His writing has received numerous awards including the O. Henry Prize, the Rome Prize, and the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award.

Both The Shell Collector and Memory Wall: stories contain imaginative stories with characters whose foibles, talents, and travails are brought to life in unusual, but convincing ways.  For instance, “The Hunter’s Wife, “ in The Shell Collector, describes a marriage falling apart as a wife discovers her very special ability to feel the blissful life experiences of those recently deceased.  She does this with animals and later with several people. This diviner of the dead forces her husband to touch her hand as she holds the leg of a doe he has just killed, creating a connection to the doe’s receding life force. “Already the doe’s vision was surging through her (wife’s) body – fifty deer wading a sparkling brook, their bellies in the current, craning their necks to pull leaves from overhanging alders, light pouring around their bodies, a buck raising its antlered head like a king. A silver bead of water hung from its muzzle, caught the sun, and fell.”

In Memory Wall: stories characters contend with their memories and what it means to lose memory or self-identification.  This theme is symbolized in the story, “Village 113,” by the Chinese town whose inhabitants are forced to give up their homes, community, and way of life so that the area can be submerged for a dam.  The first story in the collection, “Memory Wall,” uses science fiction to tell the wonderful human interest story of a young South African boy, Luvo, whose brain has been adapted to “read” the memories of an elderly woman with dementia. Luvo is as much a victim of memory loss as the woman.  ”Luvo believes he is somewhere around fifteen years old.  He has very few memories of his own: none of his parents, no sense of who might have installed four ports in his skull and set him adrift among the ten thousand orphans of Cape Town. No memories of how or why.”  But Luvo still has intelligence and free will, and what he chooses to do with them makes for a powerful and beautiful story.

Review by Evelyn Fischel

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