2009, 205 pages
what the world will look like when all the water leaves us is a book of short stories by Laura van den Berg. The stories are set in locations ranging from Boston to the Congo, from Paris to Madagascar. In eight stories, van den Berg's heroines deal with loss, disappointment, and other obstacles.
Despite the fact that this was a book of short stories, van den Berg quickly establishes her characters and their worlds in each. For example, in the opening paragraph of goodbye my loveds, I was amazed at how quickly she established an atmosphere and character, immediately making me interested in the story:
My brother entered my room at dawn. He wanted to show me the hole outside our building. I got out of bed and he drug me through the blue-black light of our basement apartment. He was twelve, although most people thought he was younger. I didn't tell him I was already awake, lying on my back and gazing at the ceiling, trying hard to return to sleep until my alarm sounded, trying hard to be normal. (p34)Laura van den Berg is a fantastic writer. Several times when reading this I paused to reread something and savor her writing. Her writing is lyrical and natural, and I loved the way she uses images to convey the emotional state of the characters. Take this example (the narrator has lost her parents and has become the sole caretaker of her brother):
One section of the store consisted entirely of antique maps. I liked to find maps of the places my parents had been and study the geography, imagining them crossing the blue lines of the Kalambo River in Tanzania or climbing the brown peaks of Mount Abu in India. The phone rang. I ignored it at first, then realized it might be my brother and answered. It was Denver, calling to tell me the hole in the street was actually a tunnel that led to the other side of the world. (p41)All of the stories in this collection are incredibly touching. When I finished the first short story in the book, where we must be, I was really touched and had to put the book down and let it sink in before reading any more. In most of the stories, van den Berg's heroines are coping with some form of loss, and van den Berg does an amazing job of portraying the emotions of her characters yet ending each story on a hopeful note. It's been a few days since I finished reading this, and most of the stories still stick out to me individually.
I will say that, reading this book exclusively over the course of a week, the stories began to feel repetitive midway through. I think that be my own fault though - perhaps my mistake is attempting to read all the short stories in a row. Do you all tend to read a book of short stories exclusively all at once, or intersperse it with other things? As a newcomer to short story collections, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and would definitely recommend it for van den Berg's writing and characters. It has definitely served as a great reintroduction to short fiction for me!