Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.

16 April, 2017

Andrea Barrett, "Wonders of the Shore"

Originally published in Tin House and then included in the 2016 issue of The Best American Short Stories, "Wonders of the Shore" is divided into five sections, each beginning with a "free adaptation" from books by female naturalists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Celia Thaxter in Her Garden, 1892,
by Childe Hassam
Daphne Bannister and Henrietta Atkins travel to the Isles of Shoals where Daphne is called upon to entertain and educate guests at Celia Thaxter's hotel. Celia Thaxter, 1835-1894, was a poet and writer and gardener on the largest island in the group, Appledore Island. She hosted many creative guests, "Among her well-known friends were Whittier, Sarah Orne Jewett, and the painters William Morris Hunt and Childe Hassam. Nathaniel Hawthorne visited her island cottage."

The story takes place during a three-week working vacation for Daphne and Henrietta on Appledore Island. While Henrietta entertains herself after a bit of a tif with Daphne, Henrietta has a fling with a house guest artist painter, Sebby Quint. The last chapter acts as an epilogue.

There's some drama interspersed throughout the story. A farmer, Mason, wanted to marry Henrietta but she lied and said he broke it off with her when she in fact dumped him. There was some gossip about Henrietta and her friend, Daphne, around Keuka Lake, with questions of their sexual relationship.

What I like most about the story is the way Andrea Barrett weaves historical people and natural science into a dramatic set of scenes illustrating that human beings are social animals that can be watched and analyzed just as the micro-organisms at the edge of the ocean. "...full of fascination for one who has learned to read them."

It takes a gifted writer to successfully open a story with a forenote and then a fairly long paragraph describing the design of a book.