- by Carol Standish
Beach Stories by the Sand and Sea (Marlowe & Company, 332pp, $15.95) is an anthology of stories and excerpts mostly from modern fiction chosen by their common setting: the beach. An odd sole criterion, setting, has produced a decidedly odd collection of tales. Add to the imposed oddity the taste of the editors, Lena Lencek and Gideon Bosker, which is extremely literary, if not esoteric, and you have a volume of considerable weight and intellectual challenge.
Beach was released last spring and promoted as the perfect book to take to the beach all summer but summer beach reading is traditionally pure escapist, bordering on drivel - we all know that - except, apparently, the folks in the marketing department. Boy, did they miss the bus. That is not to say that Beach is not worthwhile. On the contrary, it is a treasure, but, it is emphatically a winter book.
Lencek (a professor of Russian and humanities at Reed) and Bosker (an assistant professor of medicine at Yale) have selected 22 diverse and provocative short stories and passages from longer work from all over the world - from wherever there are beaches, in fact. They have relied heavily on the giants of fiction. The tide pool passage from Steinbeck's Cannery Row is always sweet delight no matter how many times you read it, for instance. Other classics include Chekhov's The Lady with a Pet Dog, Nabokov's Perfection, a scene from Camus' The Stranger, set on a steamy Algerian beach; more contemporary stories from Cheever and Updike who's description of the sea in his 1962 story, Lifeguard, is pure charm. "… from my chair the sea…seems a misty old gentleman stretched at his ease in an immense armchair which has for arms the arms of this bay and for an antimacassar the freshly laundered sky. Sailboats float on his surface like idle and unrelated but benevolent thoughts. The soughing of the surf is the rhythmic lifting of his ripple-stitched vest as he breathes." What a perfect image to happen upon any time - but especially on a bleak winter day.
Stories by Australians, Japanese, West Indian, French, British, American and Russian writers provide multi-mood glimpses of the exotic, the tropic, as well as the winter beach, but the scene is, nevertheless, only a backdrop for human action. Murder and mayhem, dissolving marriages, family feuds, rites of passage, seductions and self-delusions are the true subjects of no-holds barred explorations by an impressive array of sharp minded literary talents. Beach is a book that makes you think more than dream.