GRAVEYARD OF THE ATLANTIC
Alyson Hagy


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Graywolf Press, May 2000
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Contemporary Short Stories, North Carolina coast

The main characters in Alyson Hagyís GRAVEYARD OF THE ATLANTIC are all loners. If these encounters with untamed land and water had been diluted by the viewpoints of other people, they wouldnít be so immediate. The experiences in each story change a life or an outlook. Reading this collection, I felt I was there on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, bracing against the wind, baiting hooks, being washed by waves and muddied by silt.

In Sharking, we explore the connections of a fisherman to a form of community, even when he isnít catching anything. In this first-person account the author begins with a rather uncertain grasp of the narratorís voice, using out-of-character vocabulary several times and once jumping out of his body entirely, but that no longer mattered to me once the action started. This story contains, unexpectedly, the most riveting moment of the entire book.

The Snake Hunters is about an encounter between an island boy and a group of mainland scientists. Aaron doesnít know what he wants or where he is going until the contrast with these dilettantes propels him. A reader who feels like fighting terrain will find satisfaction in the mud flats of Ocracoke Island.

In North of Fear, South of Kill Devil, Tally is still emotional flotsam months after her husbandís death. She is holed up on an island, barely able to interact with anyone beyond the automatic. Here the perfection of the language pulls the island weather right into the room with you, as Tally is forced to discover what was the true harvest from her marriage.

The title story, Graveyard of the Atlantic, is about a man who has been taking care of his poet wife for fifteen years. Their marriage appears to be rather like trying to breathe on the moon. Into this life enters the hatching of a turtle nest and an ex-nun who sees too much. As soon as I started this story I had to know the people and learn what they would do.

Semper Paratus is narrated by a woman working Coast Guard search and rescue. Iím not going to tell you what the title means, because as you read you will discover it means more than the straight translation. The story starts slow and builds during a rescue to sheer adrenaline, and there it stays.

Brother, Unadorned is a snapshot of a disconnected family. It attempts to create one of those moments in which a person is seen to be exactly who he is. This is possible to do in the written word, but it is very difficult. In this case I felt the author was more successful in conveying the narratorís own flawed vision than her flash of understanding of her brother.

Search Bay moves to Lake Huron and Hermit Hansenís hideaway on its banks, where his memories are reluctantly revived by a young trapper working nearby. This story shows how and why Hermit Hanson is awash in his own life and will never reach shore. I didnít like the character enough to want his redemption, but the end moved me to feel for him.

As I read GRAVEYARD OF THE ATLANTIC, I had the urge to go for a long walk on the Outer Banks myself. It didnít feel like they were 3,000 miles away. It felt like a half step to one side would put me in the middle of the islands. This feeling has stayed with me for days. If you love both words and nature, this is the book for you.

Oct 2000 Review Originally Published on the Independent Reviews Site

 

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