The Shell Collector is a rich collection of stories by Anthony Doerr, winner of the Pulitzer prize.
These stories preceded All The Light We Cannot See yet the were crafted with the same level of meticulous care. Characters have strange obsessions with shells (“Shell Collector”) or magic and hunting (“The Hunter’s Wife”) or fishing (“A Tangle By the Rapid River.”)
Often Doerr writes about disabled characters who can understand the world more deeply than everyone else. The blind shell seeker, for instance, discovers that the deadly cone snail can cure illness; this turns him, for a time, into a miracle worker.
Twyman’s deaf daughter, Belle, in “Caretaker” develops a friendship with another outcast, a war refugee from Liberia, Joseph Saleeby. She’s the only one who can see him clearly; that’s he is not a criminal or poacher but someone chasing a dream like her.
Two stories have couples that become estrange from each other. In “The Hunter’s Wife,” a hunter hunts a shy magician’s assistant as he would any other prey. He doesn’t know her secret: “I have magic inside me.”
She had the gift of being able to see visions, the sights animals and people see right before they die. Though she becomes something of a celebrity, her gift frightens the hunter so much that he avoids her for twenty years.
In “Mkondo,” a man chases a woman until she becomes his wife. He is a paleontologist looking for a rare bird artifact to take back to his museum. He weds an African woman, Naima, and takes her to Ohio. He becomes estranged from her. He like the hunter in the last story doesn’t understand her.
Maybe the most empowering heroine arc is the one found in “For a Long Time This Was Griselda’s Story.”
For years, Rosemary lived in the shadow of her sister who performed circus acts with a metal eater.
After a long period of estrangement, Griselda comes to visit her hometown but Rosemary has had enough.
“But–and this is what we remember later–she was the one we looked at: her hair trembling on her head like flames, her shoulders back, her chest quaking–an image of power and fury. She burned, magnificent, in the snow, barefoot, in a T-shirt and green sweatpants, shouting at us.”
Power and fury, indeed. These are all stories of outcasts who come powerful and furious, glorious in their gifts.