‘Antarctica’ by Laura van den Berg

This story, not just about a sister searching for her brother’s remains and personal effects after he dies in an accident, but also about the impact of secrets in his life and hers, was my first introduction to Laura van den Berg’s beautiful work. I think a sense of the mysterious is what brings me back to this story – a bona fide sense of the mystery of other people, that is an earned mystery through a distinct level of alertness conveyed by the narration of the story, an alertness that is a characteristic of this writer’s other work also. I enjoy this mystery, cultivate it in my work. We are not fully knowable to each other, the story (and many other favorite stories) reminds us.

First published in Glimmer Train 88, Fall 2013, and collected in The Isle of Youth, FSG Originals, 2013

‘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