Issue:  Vol. 44 / No. 38 / 18 September 2014
 
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Sea stories

Books


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ADVERTISMENT

Part the Hawser, Limn the Sea: Stories by Dan Lopez;
Chelsea Station Editions, $14

Don't be deceived by its diminutive size. Dan Lopez's just released debut story collection Part the Hawser, Limn the Sea is a powerhouse of literary dexterity. There are five stories collected here, and all are linked by the sea, the seduction of water and tide, and the release of waves and surf.

Group therapy can't seem to buffer the pain and loss of two soldiers returning home from Afghanistan to empty nests and abandoned relationships in the emotional title tale. Buoyed by their shared grief, both men sift through the embers of their pre-war lives until a kiss and a poem about the sea binds them in unexpected and hopeful ways.

Elsewhere, undercurrents of regret and remorse are found running just beneath the cordiality of friendly conversation. In "Coast of Indiana," a day at the shore finds two lovers, mired in the ever-present uncertainty and fallibility of relationships, contemplating a relocation to the area while one seems to be moving in a whole different direction from the other. "I wanted to explore this coastline – not for Peter, but for myself – this lake that could shake off its serenity like a heavy sweater and riot like a boundless ocean," he ponders. "I could cut across the surface of the water without anything ever sticking to me."

A "threadbare pair of paint-speckled jeans" worn by a pert young deckhand seems to ignite a firestorm of erotic emotion on a gay holiday excursion in "The Cruise," until the young worker decides to make a desperate move overboard in front of all his lustful admirers.

The final story, "Volumes Set Against a Twilight Sky," begs for a better title, but steals the show as the collection's capstone. A gay widow embarks on a cruise to honor the longtime relationship he shared with his partner, only to discover a very different scenario once he reads his lover's "bitch-session" diary. "The things he brings up, it's like reading a list of every single thing I ever did to upset him," the narrator laments. He soon becomes hopelessly mired in regret, noting that "a part of me will probably always feel like I wasted nearly a quarter of a century on a relationship that had never worked." The tale beautifully unearths all the hesitancy, the doubtfulness, and the secrecy lining even the most solid partnerships, reminding us that any fissures in the framework get worse before they get better.

It takes immense skill and intuitive finesse to formulate such characterization and story development in the span of just a few pages. There is not a word wasted or a false note throughout this 60-page slice of gay fiction. Lopez demonstrates an artistry not often found in a debut collection; there is cohesion, passion, and searing pain in his writing.

Still, for all its elegance and emotional heft, one yearns for a longer work from this gifted author. Instead of dropping us off after a mere taste, give us a story with sensitive characters who keep us entranced for hundreds of pages into nights when we should be sleeping yet can't resist knowing what happens next.

Lopez is a San Francisco writer who has written for numerous LGBT periodicals, and here he steps out of the shadows and into the limelight of a blossoming career as a storywriter and, if readers are lucky, a novelist.






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