Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Review: Sea, Swallow Me by Craig Laurence Gidney

Sea, Swallow Me
Craig Laurence Gidney

Published by Lethe Press

Reviewed by Eric Karl Anderson

Craig Laurance Gidney’s exciting and impressive debut story collection Sea, Swallow Me traverses centuries of time and different continents depicting characters across a range of races and sexualities. In ‘The Safety of Thorns’ a slave named Israel Jones encounters a man he assumes to be the devil and whom he believes makes him and a girl temporarily invulnerable. In ‘Etiolate’ a student artist named Oliver feels isolated and treated like a novelty in the Baltimore club scene because of his skin color. His self consciousness about being objectified is turned outward as he begins to objectify others. When his desire turns into a power that obliterates the men he picks up, he must find a way to radically redefine himself.

Often the stories in this collection dip into fantastical realms describing characters who detect regions of spiritual or supernatural existence that are not immediately apparent to others. In ‘Come Join We’ the narrator Aime is literally able to detect people’s auras and see and hear the dead like a medium. Frequently in these stories there is a sense that the characters are tempted to eschew the physical world in favour of a more ethereal existence. The title story ‘Sea, Swallow Me’ describes a man who feels out of place as a tourist on a Caribbean island. Whilst longing for a deeper connection with the place which he feels rejected by, he sacrifices himself to the ocean in a religious ritual. Many of the characters’ fractured sense of identity can only become whole again by traversing the boundaries of their circumscribed ordinary existence. A rare security of being is achieved in one of the more straight-forward stories ‘Circus Boy Without a Safety Net’ where an isolated boy from a rural area travels to Manhattan and attends a Lena Horn drag performance.

It’s touching when we catch glimpses of the unique central characters in this collection through the eyes of other characters. The point of view is re-shifted from one immersed in a fable-like narrative to one grounded in a more physical reality. This frequently takes place throughout the stories when an encounter with a fantastical being is shunned in favour of a connection to an individual who genuinely values the dislocated central character. Such is the case in ‘A Bird of Ice’ where a twelfth century Japanese monk develops a dangerous relationship with a shape-shifter, but finally relocates himself by achieving an intimacy with one of the other monks.

Gidney’s imagery is inventive and his descriptions are sometimes like an impressionistic painting: “A suggestion of wings, the stem of a neck. Etched on the darkness, a transparent bird.” One of the most ambitious stories ‘Strange Alphabets’ describes the poet Rimbaud on a journey where the encounters he has and the things he sees are heavily coded with a meaning unique to the rogue poet genius. Each story in the collection is uniquely structured and laden with rich informed details showing that the writer has a strong sense of craft while being able to explore variations on his central themes of identity, alienation and the interplay of the supernatural with the real world. The intriguing set of characters’ flirtations with what is divine lead to surprising discoveries. These stories are engrossing, each confidently and imaginatively narrated while incorporating elements of mythology with a modern sensibility.

Eric Karl Anderson is author of the novel Enough and has published work in various publications such as The Ontario Review, Harrington Gay Men’s Fiction Quarterly, Blithe House Quarterly and the anthologies From Boys to Men and Between Men 2.



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