The Touch of the Sea – Steve Berman, ed. (Lethe Press)

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I’ve always been landlocked, never living in a place near the ocean. During a vacation to St. Maarten, however, I fell in love with the sea—its mysteries, its vastness, its beauty and legends—and will contrive to retire there by hook or crook. And reading this anthology only reinforced that notion.

The eleven stories that comprise The Touch of the Sea take full advantage of not only locations but the ocean’s mysterious elements as well. Sea creatures abound, interacting with both humans and themselves, present and the past. A wonderful example of this is the leadoff story, ‘Nathan Burgoine’s excellent “Time and Tide,” a beautifully crafted tale of re-kindled love between the descendent of a river god and his old boyfriend, a naiad. Burgoine has a gift for bittersweet romance, and this is a lovely illustration.

Matthew A. Merendo’s “The Calm Tonight” is a perfect follow-up, depicting the relationship between a merman who comes ashore to find a mate and the man he falls in love with. He knows women can be taken beneath the sea to mate, but doesn’t even know if it’s possible for two men. Fulfillment or loss? Choices must be made. Jonathan Harper’s “The Bloated Woman” provides an interesting change-up as a woman’s drowned body becomes an intriguing metaphor for a relationship between a writer and his married closet-case trick.

One of my favorite writers, Jeff Mann, turns in a fine performance with “The Stone of Sacrifice,” a deeply engaging tale about writer Ewan McDonald, researching a book in the Outer Hebrides as he falls in love with a mysterious man sacrificed to the sea gods in an ancient ritual. Mann’s gifts are in rare form here.

Damon Shaw and Joel Lane rock a pair of very poetic stories in “Air Tears” and “The Grief of Seagulls,” respectively, but no one does poetic fantasy better than Alex Jeffers, who hits one out of the park with “Ban’s Dream of the Sea,” a lyrical yet accessible story about an ancient city and a lover beneath the sea. Jeffers’ writing in so sharp and sensual you can almost smell the brine.

The only possible way to follow Jeffers is to go the opposite direction, and Brandon Cracraft’s hilariously pointed monster movie mashup “Night of the Sea Beast” is more than up to the task. Think Ed Wood directing Creature of the Black Lagoon and you’re almost there. Vincent Kovar takes us to what seems to be a post-apocalyptic world populated by thuggish quasi-pirate boys in “Wave Boys” and John Howard speaks for all who seek a different way of life in “Out to Sea.” It’s Chaz Brenchley who has the last word, however, with a story of pirates and living islands in “Keep the Aspidochelone Floating.”

The Touch of the Sea is a perfect anthology—not a dud here—full of the mystery and vastness that only the ocean can conjure. May we have a sequel, Mr. Berman?

© 2012, Jerry L. Wheeler

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