The Shell Collector, by Anthony Doerr

Yes, this is the same Anthony Doerr who gave us the Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See. The Shell Collector is a short story collection, and Doerr's first major published work, so I expected some of the usual "first work" awkwardness. There is none of that here. My only complaint with this book is that it ended far too soon; the last 30 pages of this edition are sneak peeks of Doerr's yet-to-be-released titles, so I thought I had at least one more story left when I finished the last. It was devastating. I felt cheated and robbed.

Doerr is a wordsmith, a one-of-a-kind talent that leaves me breathless and tearing up and so deeply affected by each story as to make it impossible to continue onto the next story after finishing the one before. His is a language to languish in, to soak up and read fully, not to skim through and seek out plot and dialogue. These stories are mostly about people in failed or failing relationships, and sleep is a theme that recurs in each - the hibernation of winter, sleep so deep it cannot be disturbed, the inability to sleep. They feature one Liberian man's attempt to regain control of his life by burying the hearts of whales washed up on the Oregon coastline and growing a garden over them; a retired man's indiscretion; a wife who can glimpse the pathway between life and death. This is not a book to be read, it is an experience to be grasped. Do yourself a favor and read The Shell Collector.


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