From the bestselling author of Mary Reilly and the internationally acclaimed Property, a brilliant collection featuring Valerie Martin's finest short stories to date.
For four decades Valerie Martin has been publishing novels and stories that demonstrate her incredible range as a writer, moving between realism and fantasy while employing a voice that is at once whimsical and tragic. The twelve stories in this collection showcase Martin's enviable control, precision, and grace and are organized around her three fictional obsessions—the natural world, the artistic sphere, and stunning transformations. In "The Change," a journalist watches his menopausal wife, an engraver, create some of her eeriest and most affecting works even as she seems to be willfully destroying their marriage. In "The Open Door," an American poet in Rome finds herself forced to choose between her lover and a world so alien it takes her voice away. "Sea Lovers" conjures up a hideous mermaid whose fatal seduction of a fisherman provides better reason than Jaws for staying out of the water. In "The Incident at Villedeau" a respected gentleman confesses to killing his wife's former lover, an event that could be construed as an accident, an impulsive act, or a premeditated crime. Exploring themes of obsession, justice, passion, and duplicity, these drolly macabre stories buzz with tension.
Martin (The Ghost of Mary Celeste) assembles the stories in this collection from declarative, unfurnished sentences that have the stocky feel of a translated text. It's a style that lends itself well to the spare, domestic situations a cat stuck in a salmon can, dinner party insults, relationship jealousy that she fixates on and then abruptly breaks from, ending stories in an open parabola. Martin even takes matters a step further, embellishing her quotidian situations with gothic detail. This title story, which is about mermaids, sits directly next to a story of marital unrest, in which a husband and wife idly discuss a gym membership; other stories combine the grotesque with the domestic, as in "The Consolation of Nature," a story about a family that becomes obsessed with killing a rat. Martin's characters, always self-aware but rarely empowered, begin and end most stories either feeling inferior or unsatisfied in a relationship, with sex acting merely as a dulling agent of mollification. Dramatic resolution isn't the point of this collection, to devastating effect quite literally in "The Unfinished Novel," perhaps the most affecting story, in which a man comes into contact with his ex-girlfriend and her unfinished manuscript of 20 years. This collection is rife with the unspoken cracks between people, and leaves a haunting, lingering impression.