“The Bloated Woman” by Jonathan Harper from The Touch of the Sea (Lethe Press, 2012). Edited by Steve Berman.
It took me a little while to warm up to this story and the end felt disjointed, but man, oh man, the middle is filled with revelations that are like punches to the gut.
That’s most definitely a compliment. I love writing that makes me look over my shoulder or ask aloud, “Who are you, and how did you get in here?” By that I mean into my head, and my heart, and my soul. Writing that not only introduces me to other people, but exposes, as universal, thoughts I believed (or feared) to be uniquely mine. I love that.
Jeremiah is twenty-five, an aspiring writer in need of income. His former professor, Walter, who he knew as the co-director of the psychology department, is in failing health, suffering from dementia. The math doesn’t seem to add up until nearly the end of the tale, when Walter suffers a second stroke. Aha, got it. But that’s okay. It’s good.
Jeremiah’s there to be a relief caretaker, to lift some of the burden from Walter’s beleaguered sister Nora’s shoulders. When he’s not on duty he daydreams about writing a novel (but doesn’t do it) and goes looking for trouble down by the piers. He specifically searches for one of the locals, a married man nearly twice his age, named Amos. When the story opens the two have just happened upon the bloated body of a woman. She appears to have been murdered, rather than drowned. The author employs a bit of misdirection to string the story along and give the impression that this is a genre piece, which turns out not to be so. No problem there either. This feels like a fragment of a larger story, one I think will/would be astounding. I hope I’m right, but even if I’m not, I’m all in. I want to read whatever he’s written.
Addendum: There’s one thing I do not like at all, and that’s waiting. I have no patience whatsoever. Right after I wrote this I dropped to the internet and was thrilled to find that the author has a story collection, Daydreamers. I was beyond ready to purchase it when I discovered that it will not be out for another four months. Four months, are you kidding me?
Second Addendum: Shortly after posting this I received a .pdf ARC of Daydreamers from the publisher. Watch for reviews after the first of the year!