Book info

The Shell Collector: Stories (2003)

The Shell Collector: Stories (2003)
Author
Rating
4.13 of 5 Votes: 5
ISBN
0142002968 (ISBN13: 9780142002964)
languge
English
publisher
penguin books
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The Shell Collector: Stories (2003)
The Shell Collector: Stories (2003)

About book: I was lead to The Shell Collector directly by the author’s current best seller All the Light We Cannot See. On a certain level, the books have similarities: blindness and nature and objects with magic properties. But I found my interaction with the two books to be very different. With Light I was easily drawn in by the language and the story whereas with Collector I was immediately put off by the story, confused by the details and uncertain where I was being led. The language was similarly mesmerizing in both but the meaning of the stories in Collector was hidden to me. Light is a relatively long novel while Collector is a collection of short stories. But they are not all truly “short” stories, some going to 30 and 40 pages. I do not know much about magical realism in fiction and the non-religious part of me (admittedly a sizeable part of me) wants to hold it at some distance. But I do not think that Anthony Doerr can be best enjoyed without some willingness to suspend disbelief. The skill of his writing makes me want to grudgingly say, “Well, I suppose I could go that far …” And, once on the slippery slope, I am subject to the obviously real force of gravity. In Light there is open debate about the likelihood that the diamond actually has real magic properties. And in Collector I understand that there is some real discussion of the potential medicinal benefits from the poison of cone shells. I am susceptible to the belief that Nature does have some truly astounding aspects; the concept of a soul has a certain appeal.I can begin to see how reading Anthony Doerr could be addictive. Even when I am not fully understanding a story – which happens regularly – I am immensely enjoying the words and the writing. Even with the air filled with question markes, I am still experiencing “wow”! He has his magic hooks that are like fly fishing with no real bait. His regular immersion in nature makes the natural world sparkle.I like short stories in part because you can easily survive a “clunker” that does not do much for you by simply going on to the next story. Take what you like and leave the rest, they say in AA. With Doerr there are some stories I like better than others and most have some moments of perplexity where I sputter along in uncertainty. But Doerr stories have a strength in their readability and re-readability. They grow on you as you experience the nuances and eddies and rip tides. There might be a surprise on the very next page even in the story that you have already read once.I had an experience in reading this particular book of short stories. As you may know, I especially like very short stories – maybe just a half dozen pages – and books with chapters that are similarly short. Well, Doerr does not really do short, short stories. He runs on a bit at times with a story and, especially when you might be struggling for a meaning, you can be hoping for an ending. And, yet, if you are like me reading in the eBook format, your little note at the bottom left of the page is telling you that you still have a ways to go. Well, so here I am, reading along with bedtime approaching but my Kindle is telling me I still have over an hour to go in this story. Do I stop and pick this up the next day? I have to get up relatively early to get my daughter to school. I am reading the last story in the book, Mkondo, and for once I think I am actually understanding the allegory, where the story is taking me, and I want to know if there is going to be a happy or puzzling or sad ending. I won’t be able to go to sleep with that hanging over me! But, guess what? The story pulls me along and the hour rushes by and, before I know it, I have successfully navigated the rapids and have reached the conclusion with an unexpected happy (or is it?) ending. Or maybe I need to read this medium-length story again in a day or two to see what I think the second time. But that night I can go to sleep satisfied but with the knowledge that Doerr has only finished with me temporarily and will be glad to welcome me back at a future moment. I am left with a wonderful uncertainty that is simultaneously a conclusion yet also an open door.Sometimes you will read a review in which the reader lets you know that s/he had to let the book rest before a review could be considered. This is that kind of a book for me. But I am not patient with my own writing to allow for that resting period. This is my second experience with Doerr and I have not yet been able to rest from the first one. When you read this review a month from now and Like it (Thank you so much!), I will come back to it as a result of your Like and think about it again. Or maybe in six months or a year. I think I will come back to Doerr sooner or later and maybe even do some rereading. That would be unusual for me since I do not commonly do much rereading. But I am going to give The Shell Collector only four stars as a challenge to my future self to come back one day and convince myself that there is ample reason to shift to five. This may be a great book that just needs a little time to grow on me!The story Mkondo did that to me! Left me relentlessly pursued… [mkondo, noun . Current, flow, rush, passage, run, e.g., of water in a river or poured on the ground; of air through a door or window, i.e., a draft; of the wake of a ship, a track, the run of an animal.]Maybe living was no more than getting swept over a riverbed and eventually out to sea, no choices to make, only the vast, formless ocean ahead, the frothing waves, the lightless tomb of its depths. Stunning? Or stunned?

This collection starts strong, then it starts to seem like this guy's instrument doesn't have too many strings and then he tries to write about Africans.The first three stories are memorable and rewarding, pleasantly removed from day-to-day circumstances and romantically committed to unlikely pairings and second shots--"So Many Chances" I might read again just for pleasure. But, Doerr is hung up on female characters who aren't human (or female)--one dimensional fantasy objects for boy poets who haven't come to terms with loving anyone that doesn't act, move and think like a man. They are too captivating and convenient, magical and false.And he can't write about Africans for shit. In fact, his attempts were almost offensive. If this was 1700 and Africa was still the unknown, he could people it with barbarians and alienated semi-adapted, cerebral metaphors; but it isn't and his African stories ("The Caretaker" and "Mkondo"), while perhaps well structured and rewarding to interpret, use foreigness as a blocking device to protect characters who act in unlikely but memorable ways. When he lightens up, ("July Fourth"--oily feel to it, and "For a Long Time This Was Griselda's Story") he can sound a bit like a more self-conscious Lewis Nordan, which is weird but good. Doerr has potential; but he needs to branch out and stop projecting his fantasies on real things.Lastly, you must like fishing and people isolated in the back country in a real Annie Dillard sort of way to get enjoyment from this at all. There are no cities or social settings that involve more than two people in conversation at once (pretty much).
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Reviews
Maya Lang
I've recently been experiencing short story fatigue (with my own shorts more than anyone else's). Then along came Anthony Doerr. If I tried to describe any of his plots to you, you'd conclude that they sound absurd. My only conclusion is that Doerr has held onto that impulse that gets us to tell stories in the first place. These are not quiet, formulaic stories told in a certain hushed workshop voice of restraint. These are stories of the improbable, stories that break the mold, imbued with magic and a sense of the fantastic, yet deeply grounded in characters who are human, memorable, real. "The Hunter's Wife" in particular will stay with me as an example of all that a story can accomplish.
Mckinley
If you enjoy short stories try reading this. I found this a delightful collection of stories whisking me from beach front Kenya to frozen pine forests of Montana and beyond. Nature plays a key role in each piece. His characters are richly developed. They deal with issues ranging from dealing with fractured relationships to self-discovery. And many have a mystical connection to the earth. In this way, Doerr weaves together the human condition and the miraculous wonders of nature. His characters inhabit a world that seems to piece the veil of our mundane world; yet there is nothing too outlandish about these stories. The stories vary quite a bit from each other. Some characters must deal with tremendous hardships while others discover unique gifts. Yet all are united by their ultimate deference to the mysteries of the universe larger than themselves. Although seemingly simple, these stories are quite rich and emotionally complex. I enjoyed these well crafted stories and I found myself re-reading sentences again and again.
Sarai
Beautifully written stories showcasing nature and exploring its influence on different characters. The sky, the sea, and everything in between comes alive. Not all of the stories were standouts to me--the two short stories that won awards for example were not my favorites by far--but I really enjoyed The Caretaker and Mkondo. Doerr has a definitative writing style, every sentence feels like it was carefully crafted, and he does a great job of really describing a setting. That said, the sentences were so "heavy" with descriptions and pretty words that it slowed down my reading since I was so busy absorbing it all. This collection demands to be read slowly, but if you're willing to give it some time you can enjoy a few amazing stories.
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