‘Raw and elegant’ – Saltwater by Lane Ashfeldt

slaSaltWater is the debut short story collection from Lane Ashfeldt.  Lane Ashfeldt has been published in a number of countries and has been awarded several literary prizes, such as The Fish Short Histories prize and Global Short Story prize. She has also appeared in a number of anthologies including Dancing with Mr. Darcy (Harper Collins/Honno) and Punk Fiction: Short Stories Inspired by Punk (Portico). This collection is very thoughtful and well compiled. The twelve stories within it cover a range of ages, people and countries. The collection is further subdivided into three groups; Roaring Water Bay, Slack Water and finally Rising Sea. With the exception of one story, water is a major if not the main character. People living around it, living from it, being scared of it and others who can’t image not living with it. I was immediately drawn to the title as it is an unusual feature to point out about the sea. In some cases people can forget that freshwater and saltwater can have such different impacts and presence in people’s lives.

The title story of the collection is inspired by a family event. Set during World War II the imagery used forces your imagination to put you on deck of a sailboat in the Irish Sea waiting for the bombing to end;

“The planes swooped in so low that they almost tipped the mast. Jim tried to alter course but with a heavy load of china clay in the hold, the schooner handled slow and clumsy. Easy prey. He kept his hand on the wheel until the sound of it came.

“Ack-ack-ack! Ack-ack-ack!”

All three of them ducked. The wheelhouse windows shattered and a hail of glass fell over them. Jim tasted bile in his throat. Meanwhile the boat gently, pointlessly, swung around.”

The writing style throughout is one of simplicity but it gives a feeling of rawness and purity to the reader. The voices are authentic and you can really see people speaking and going about their lives.

The authenticity of Lane Ashfeldt’s voices is to my mind, best demonstrated in ‘Sound Waves’. It is set around a large music festival being held on a Greek island and how people can have their lives altered by small and big events. This story has three very distinct voices. To have this many points of view shouldn’t work in the short fiction format but Lane Ashfeldt has managed to achieve it with clarity and decisiveness. The story flows and changes voices without jarring the reader. This story reminds me of a news report from Ireland about ten years ago and while the story was horrific at the time it is too easy to forget the rippling effects this event may have in the future. ‘Sound Waves’ reminded me of how brief interactions can impact someone’s life whether for better or worse.

To anyone who enjoys the changing moods of the sea or likes reading stories of various types of people and how they interact with situations I would highly recommend reading this collection. However if someone has recently decided to learn how to swim maybe they should wait to read this book. Keep it under the bed until you are confident enough in the water.

SaltWater is a collection that I know will stay with me. I only wish it was published three years ago. At that time I was living in a completely landlocked area, and being a water-baby raised, with a particular love of seawater, I found the inability to access water an especially hard part of my new living circumstances. If I had this book at the time I know it would have grounded me and prevented one or two bouts of homesickness. It is amazing how water can affect people’s moods (not just me I have discovered) as well as their lives.

Any Cop?: Although writing about a common theme Ashfeldt’s writing style and approach allows this collection to stand out from others.  The reader is immediately transported to the setting of her stories you do not need to know the areas she is writing about – her descriptions are enough for the reader. Her style is both raw and elegant.

Margaret M. O’ Toole


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