Come the Tide by Sam Reese
This is an excellent collection of thirteen short stories. Trickling through the collection is a theme of water; tides and lakes, rivers and islands. All of the stories are good but one or two have something extra, a wonderful magical quality that lifts them above the others and makes them very special.
The locations of the stories are rarely named but this is a widely travelling collection, with stories set in Sydney and New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Morocco. Some take us back in time to Florence and to Greece. Some are hard to pin down, watery costal locations that could be anywhere in our own imaginations. In Lake Country we are in a man-made nightmare of lakes and dams. The coldness and emptiness will make you shiver.
My two favourite stories are Atlantis which is short, and Counterfeiting one of the longest in the book. They are utterly different to each other, but they tell us stories with a magical quality that delve back into the past. In Atlantis, Iris comes to an island in search of the place where she began, where she was conceived. She arrives by flying boat and finds her way to a small ‘vine-encrusted’ hotel. Pushing open the door ‘She had expected dust – that time might have softened the building with a blanket to deaden her parents’ passing. Instead, it was life that greeted her: boxes burst with herbs, the floor sweet with their crushed leaves, and, in the distance, the corridor opened to a colossal garden scene. A courtyard thronged with trees rendered in dappled light, framed by two potted palms, whose leaves seemed less real than those emerald flecks of paint. Somewhere, water dropped slowly into a dark pool.’ Down a small book-lined corridor Iris encounters the owner and one senses they will have a future together, and she will help revive the flagging hotel.
In Counterfeiting a young art student comes to the home of an elderly painter and is asked to restore her mural, a vast painting from Renaissance Florence, the right-hand side of some much larger piece. He must come to her apartment three afternoons a week to work on the restoration, but he must not bother her. Slowly, gradually, like careful individual brush strokes, he learns a little more about the story of the mural and of the artist. He comes to understand the narrative of her life that is woven into the painting itself. It is a wonderful story that has a film like quality about it. Its shortness can leave much unsaid and hinted at, but the depth of intrigue makes for compulsive reading.
Many of the stories are riddled with wonderful contrasts, such as those between the stages of a relationship and flavoured coffees being sipped. We begin with ‘Bright and juicy. Notes of sherbet, oranges, and chubby white grapes.’, move to ‘Bittersweet. Hints of dandelion behind a honeyed swirl of oats.” and finally, as the story shifts, these give way to ‘Dark with regret. Liquorice root, no 5 maple, and a twist of whiskey.’ All our senses are being played with at the same time.
Sam Reese originally hails from Aotearoa New Zealand, but he is currently lecturing in English and Creative Writing at the University of Northampton in England.
Reviewer: Marcus Hobson
Published by Platypus Press