The sea has been an object of meditation as long as people have been around to reflect on it. Its power to provide focus, to rejuvenate, to put one’s land problems in perspective is unmistakable. Sometimes you will find answers lurking beneath its surface and other times all you’ll see are more questions, but each person comes to it looking for different reasons. Different lives. Different possibilities. The five stories that comprise Dan Lopez’s Part the Hawser, Limn the Sea exemplify the variety of searches brought to the shoreline.
Five stories? Yes. And they aren’t even that long. The entire book is under fifty pages. But I submit to you that more is packed into those pages than most of the two or three hundred page books I’ve read. None of the pieces are particularly oriented toward plot. They are character sketches–or rather sketches of characters in the throes of decision making.
The stories are all-of-a-piece yet separate. One finds many differences between the ex-soldier wondering why he can’t seem to find normalcy in “Part the Hawser, Limn the Sea” and the architect of “Volumes Set Against a Twilight Sky,” who discovers his dead lover’s hatred of him in an old diary, yet Lopez finds the disconnects in both their lives and submerges them in the sea (the former finds himself drawn to the ocean with a friend, and the latter takes a cruise). And both men do find answers, of a sort. The second story in particular has a satisfactory ending that not only solves the character’s problem but also makes a point about how dead lovers can be lionized so thoroughly that we forget their very real faults.
I was also moved by “Coast of Indiana,” which sees Cam and Peter taking an exploratory trip to a place Peter may or may not want to go to school. Cam has a few responsibilities to leave behind, but nothing he feels he can’t drop. It’s up to Peter, who seems not to want to decide for himself but would rather let Cam’s inability to act decide for them both. The interplay between these characters is wonderful. Not much is spoken or admitted, but their desires and patterns are all the plainer for it.
The aforementioned brevity of this book actually works in its favor. The characters and situations are all so bleak and disconnected that even as you discover their differences, you see their similarities. And, taken as a whole, they all sound the same note–a beautiful, sonorous note to be sure, but if the collection had been any longer, I’d have been looking for a wider variance in mood and tone.
Still, these stories are unique and powerful in their simplicity, and I found this to be an impressive collection I couldn’t stop thinking about once finished.
© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler