What the world will look like when all the water leaves us
A week or two back I was roaming the near empty shelves of a Borders liquidation sale when I spied a lonely copy of Laura van den Berg's debut short story collection What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us.
Swallowing my surprise that a book I was actually looking for was available at Borders, and suppressing my irony alarm that this new availability came just as the store would soon close for good, and there being at least 10 feet between me and the shelf and only a clearance bin full of vegetable shaped staplers to distract my fellow sales junkies, I had to feign absolute disinterest, casually slink down the isle, pick up the title in question, even put it back down to complete the illusion, before rushing to the counter before the dream subsided.
And now I almost feel guilty that I only paid $10 for this excellent collection. I would really hate the thought that Laura van den Berg googled her name and somehow happened upon a blog explaining how a reader found her book at a ‘everything must go’ liquidation sale.
Because this book is so much better than that.
Laurie Steed first alerted me to ….Water Leaves Us when he reviewed the opening story on his blog The Gum Wall. The collection is a rare blend of what I’m calling ‘extraordinary realism’ – narratives that succeed in making the extraordinary accessible through grounded narratives and relatable characters.
Van den Berg’s narrators, all of which are women, paint pictures of relationships in bloom and decay, set against exotic backgrounds and mysterious happenings; a monster lurks at the edge the Congo jungle; a failed actress takes a job as a Bigfoot impersonator; an orphaned child discovers a bottomless hole in a neighbourhood street; and a woman faces down the aftermath of a destructive relationship as she joins the hunt for the Loch Ness monster.
Never does the exotic get in the way of Van den Berg delivering realistic characters who feel both fresh and familiar. They act in meaningful ways and it’s clear that Van den Berg holds great empathy for their plight.
The writing is lean, the tone sombre and affecting, and each story explores a different aspect of relationships between lovers, siblings, mothers and daughters.
It’s testament to the skill of a great writer that I, as a reader, was able to feel so at home in the Congo jungle or swimming off the Madagascar coast. And whilst the stories aren’t directly linked, each piece in the collection builds upon the themes of the last, making it a fine example of how to achieve synergy in a bound short story collection.
What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us is available as a universal ebook from Readings or on Kindle via Amazon. The first story from the collection (also one of the best) is embedded below.
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