“Book Review: Come the Tide”
Reviewed by Jack Messenger
A sparkling waterworld of hidden depths
Come the Tide is a dazzling collection of thirteen short stories, each of which inhabits the liminal space between dry land and restless water. Ancient myths haunt these tales of oceans and islands, lakes and swimming pools. And bodies of water – with their dangers and temptations, promises and secrets – weigh heavily on human protagonists drowning in uncertainty and betrayal.
Author Sam Reese is from Aotearoa/New Zealand, a nation of islands amid the vast Southern Ocean. His stories of sunlight and storm, forest and desert also take place in spots like Tangier, Sydney, Sri Lanka, and Florence. Many of his characters are travelers in a foreign culture, brought to confront the unexpected and uncanny in each other, in friends and lovers, in rebellious Nature.
“I’ve started dreaming of cities overgrown with green… Skyscrapers swallowed by ivy – monstrous monstera suffocating long-abandoned rooms, craning their necks through broken windows towards the sun.”
In Come the Tide water is friend and foe, life and death. Couples experience abrupt seismic shifts in relationships, while dreams of drowning and visions of towns submerged in depthless lakes thrust readers into the precarity of human existence. Ecologies slip into overdrive in stories such as “Overgrown,” where vegetation becomes Nature’s mysterious aggressor. Mythology and Nature join forces in “Circe in Furs,” transforming people into strange beasts who fade into the midnight forest.
In stories like “Atlantis,” “everything is on the verge of being swallowed by nature,” where the submerged mythical city of Atlantis represents the certainty and peace that the grieving characters are searching for. In “Which Way to Ithaca?”, on the other hand, a young woman longs to recapture a transcendent moment from her past but is frustrated by the discovery that the shining city on a hill is really just a flimsy film-set made from plywood and string. “Everybody has a private space somewhere inside of themselves,” and yet there is “erosion. The water lapping at the base of cliffs, lapping at the base of us all.”
Many of the women in Come the Tide possess secret knowledge and artistic gifts. They can exercise a strange power over others – particularly men. And women frequently exercise control over the image itself – in their photographs, for example, that reveal more than they show, or the broken fresco in “Counterfeiting,” which conveys a mystery, a secret from the past, via the frank gaze of figures who stare outwards at the spectator, at the reader.
“An image is a trap you get caught inside. No matter how I tried, I was never going to dream my way back.”
There are many memorable images in Come the Tide, among them hotel rooms imagined as beneath the sea, with crabs scuttling across the carpet (“Atlantis”), or the recurrent image of a dive – be it a swimmer plunging athletically into the water or the terrible slow-motion plummet of a car off a cliff.
Perhaps the most unsettling story in Come the Tide is “Lake Country,” set in a converted pump house at the end of a pier over a bottomless artificial lake. Vast turbines – fifty years old and never used – stand in silence beneath the building, connected to a labyrinth of tunnels and pipework that stretches through the mountainous forest to an enormous dam. A young couple’s discovery of what happened here long ago casts a new, menacing light on technological complexity.
The stories in Come the Tide take us to unexpected places, and we come to see the world as an island in space, less hospitable and more unpredictable than we often like to think.
There is very little dialogue in these stories, and none of it is signaled with quotation marks. From time to time I found this stylistic choice a bit confusing and bothersome, as it was not always clear who was speaking. Occasionally, it seemed as if there were a glass wall between me and the narrator, rather like the glass window in the aquarium that separates one character from a silently judging octopus. I struggled to connect to the narrative at these points.
However, admirers of the short story will savor Come the Tide’s blend of the numinous and the normal. Like many of its characters, I could feel the sand between my toes, the glare of the sun in my eyes, and the pain of broken love. The book’s aquatic settings emphasize the immensity of the sky at night and the power of the wind and the rain, so that the act of reading becomes an unusually visceral and enlarging experience. Take a deep breath and dive in.
The book hits shelves on June 8, 2019.
Publisher: Platypus Press
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