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Brownrigg writes: “Among the many potent themes that weave in and out of the stories in “Sea Lovers” — the stark realities of the artist’s path; the proximity of death to life; the complexities of the relationship between humans and animals — are a number of seemingly ordinary yet revelatory images. For Valerie Martin’s characters, something as simple as drinking a glass of water can yield a moment of reflection and clarity. …
“Martin’s prose is lucid, and she avoids stylistic pyrotechnics. Her primary aim is to allow her characters their contradictory feelings, giving them room to breathe. When she mentions Chekhov in her introduction, the reference is illuminating rather than presumptuous: We see her empathizing with modest souls who have great feelings, displaying a Chekhovian knack for the deflating, ordinary detail.”
Brownrigg continues: “Martin (the author of over a dozen works of fiction, including the well-regarded historical novels Mary Reilly and Property) has organized these 12 stories, most published in previous collections, into three sections. The first, “Among the Animals,” consists of tales that set human and animal frailties and ferocities in counterpoint. …
“The first section is followed by “Among the Artists” and then “Metamorphoses,” a group of four tales featuring human-creature interactions that hover in a territory somewhere between the surreal and the gothic. In a short introduction, Martin explains her choice of these categories and traces the arc she sees in her own career as she has moved, over the decades, from a spare severity to a fuller form. …
“Martin’s complex and wonderful stories, with their careful rendering and sober insights, offer their own kind of relief for the reader: This book is a long, cool drink of water.”
Valerie Martin’s Top Ten List
1. Hamlet by William Shakespeare (1600).
2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857).
3. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955).
4. The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (1943–48).
5. Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy (1899).
6. The stories of Anton Chekhov (1860–1904).
7. Persuasion by Jane Austen (1817).
8. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (1881).
9. Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee (1999).
10. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (1953).