I need to start this post with a confession: I bought Bitter Waters because of the cover. Actually, I bought this book twice because of the cover. Once in print and once as an audiobook. As you must know by now, I adore short fiction period, but it’s often harder to find in audio form, so when I find a collection in audiobook I’m over-the-moon.
So, confession over.
One of the things about audiobooks, as I’ve said many times before, is the impact the tone of the narrator can have on the story. Some narrate, some perform – the latter is almost always better – and I’ve often found myself having a different experience reading a book physically than when I listen to it instead. I’ve only listened to this book so far, but I plan to physically read it thereafter.
All that said, I rather wish I’d skipped the introduction. There’s two pieces to that, one minor and one major. The minor point is that there’s a bit of a somewhat-spoiler in the introduction for the first story in the collection – “Another Chart of the Silences.” The major point is that, for lack of a better way of putting it, the introduction’s tone (again, delivered as an audiobook) came across rather patronizing and really off-putting. Had I not been out on a long walk with dog-leash in hand and my iPhone buried in my pocket, I might have turned it off.
This is by no means my way of telling you to skip the book – quite the opposite, as I’ll get to in a moment – but the introduction rubbed me so far the wrong way there was static in what little remains of my hair. Perhaps it was the audio interpretation and performance, but it was like being lectured to from a stuffy parent about how you have no idea what culture is and you’re about to get schooled – schooled, young man – in what you’ve been missing. So shut up and sit down and behave. Even if that’s true – and I’m certainly not saying that my experience with the first short story was anything but sublime – the delivery was just really off.
This introduction did absolutely nothing to entice me in the slightest, and had quite the opposite of the intended effect, I’m sure. So – and I rarely say this – I’d suggest reading the introduction later (or, if you’re listening to the audiobook, skip past it and come back to it later).
“Another Chart of the Silences”
Oh this story. As is often the case in the best short fiction, the narrative is in itself simple – a man who sails wishes to make a chart with original period tools of an area that has a vaguely sinister mythological association. In a library, he meets a young man and the two form a connection that is as tangled in loneliness and brittle self-esteem as it is in something ephemerally stronger and potentially disastrous.
I refuse to spoil anything of this story. The first brush with “the Silences” is hauntingly written, and the slow spiral to the ending starts as a kind of soft ache that builds to such a tight and anxious swell that I found myself pausing at points in my walk, closing my eyes and just listening to the words of the performer, closing out the rest of my senses to get swept up in the narrative.
Ultimately, the story left me feeling a little haunted, and I daresay that was the intent.
I’m going to pace myself with these stories, I think, and allow myself indulgences over as much time as I can stand to draw it out.