‘What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us’ by Laura van den Berg

Laura van den Berg’s stories grip me. They leave vivid impressions on my mind—I find myself turning over details days after reading them—but also demand re-reading, calling for another look, a deeper plunge.  Her second collection, Isle of Youth, is a thing of beauty: seven stories that each work as perfect microcosms but, when read together, reverberate thematically, building layers of significance.

But the title story of her first collection, ‘What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us’, is my favourite of her works. It helps that the premise is instantly intriguing: a young woman who dreams of being an open-water swimmer travels to Madagascar where her mother is studying the collapsing lemur population. Where the story really shines, though, is in the way it unravels the complex interaction between mother and daughter—what Kazuo Ishiguro might call a ‘three dimensional relationship.’ The final shift in the story, projecting us forwards in time, is a killer.

First published in One Story 102, 2008; collected in What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us Scribe. 2011. Read the opening here

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