A hypnotic novella and three quirky stories from the second winner of the Katherine Anne Porter award in short fiction.
The prize here is for “Diving with the Devil,” a dreamy little joy: When a group of friends go diving for a summer on a remote Bahamian key, it’s an opportunity for narrator Peter Cole to explore a cultural fugue of cranky bush pilots, wizened fisherman so long on the beaches their news is all 40 years old, bratty Americans who can’t stop their drunken rants about old romantic conquests, and the blend of superstition and suspicion that results when it turns out that the group’s divemaster may have something to do with “the virus”—local code for drug running. Just as immediate as that, though, is Cole’s old feeling for the woman who is now his wife’s friend, and a new feeling for the spouse of a poor diver who leaves the Bahamas after his first trip to the deep. And deep is the final lesson: the immersion into a world close to home, yet weighted by emotional pressure, an underwater lilt, and a soothing slow-motion language. Shaw’s short stories are quirky and engaging as well. “Holding Pattern at D.C. International” tells of the squalid lives of employees whose only excitement comes from intra-clique politics and the potential of too many planes in the air, and a bunch of Air Force men in “A Cure for Gravity” convalesce together in a hospital for those with uncertain injuries, though the new captain is lucid enough to note that “There is drama in our madness, even a sense of purpose, albeit somewhat misguided. But men with only broken hearts are laughingstocks.” The true excitement comes, though, from the fact that even the novella here was once much shorter, and that this is a writer ready to make a significant move toward even longer work.
The real thing.