A Sailor's Valentine and Other Stories
By Craig Moodie
Introduction by Castle Freeman, Jr.
Set sail on rough seas with a full crew of fishermen, drinkers, lovers, and dreamers—who rarely catch what they want or deserve. Instead, they work and live troubled lives captured in brilliant detail by Moodie, one of America’s finest short story writers. These quietly suspenseful tales create a world where darkness is never far away—and where each new day is fueled by equal measures of hope and delusion.
“In the Melvillian ‘The Shearwater,’ perhaps the finest story in this collection, an old fisherman goes out to sea on just another routine fishing expedition and is pursued through the fog—and on the radar—by an omniscient force that threatens to collide with his boat and kill him.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“Set in the waterways and towns of Cape Cod, Moodie’s collection of 13 contemporary sea stories about commercial fishermen is an impressive debut . . . with many tales that juxtapose relationships with women against the love of the sea.”
– Publishers Weekly
On Sailor’s Valentine and Other Stories
By Castle Freeman, Jr.
Schoolchildren learn as an unexpected fact that the Earth is more than seven-tenths water. The dry land beneath our feet is an exception, an aberration, a flaw in the vast uniformity of the oceans. Most of us accept the preponderance of the sea as a curiosity. For us, it’s a geographical datum. For the men and women in A Sailor’s Valentine, it is something far other, far greater.
These eighteen stories are mainly set in the fishing communities around Harwich Port, Massachusetts, on the south shore of Cape Cod. They are populated by commercial fishermen who search the waters of Nantucket Sound and out into the open ocean, staying at sea for days at a time and returning to port to refit and refuel—and to tend, not always successfully, to their onshore roles as husbands, fathers, brothers, children, friends, lovers. In their lives the sea’s dominance is no abstraction. The North Atlantic is a meal ticket, a taskmaster, a threat, a refuge. Finally and most of all, it’s a mystery, a huge, annihilating, emptiness.
Craig Moodie shows us these lives, so unlike most of our own, with complete authority. The stories, like their characters, have the unassuming simplicity that comes with the most careful art. The author, ingenious and observant, finds the descriptive detail that sticks in the reader’s mind and carries conviction. The crewman, fighting panic, struggling to get into his cold-water survival suit and hanging up on the boots. The shipwrecked captain, his boat crushed by a container vessel, floating in the water with “some small pieces of lapstrake planking . . . along with a slowly sinking copy of Playboy and a crushed cereal box: the new box of cornflakes that had been among the groceries he had bought that morning before heading offshore.” In passages like these, Craig Moodie establishes what a fiction writer must have to be successful. He establishes documentary authority.
But he establishes as well something more, and more elusive: an emotional authority. Not only the events and furnishings of his people’s lives and of their surroundings are made vivid, but also their feeling—you might almost say their meaning. Craig Moodie’s seafarers don’t have an easy time of it. They struggle and they suffer, from overwork and underenjoyment, from age, from money troubles, from love. They are hard on themselves and hard on one another. But, for better and for worse, the condition of their struggles is bound up with the limitless, indifferent, omnipotent presence at their doorsteps.
In A Sailor’s Valentine the sea is a place, not only of hard work and mortal danger, but also of dreams and visions. Part of the originality of these stories comes from their joining of plain-spoken realism with phantasmagoria. By exploring this hidden, uncanny side of his characters’ minds, the author gives them to us with particular force. He puts us in their souls as well as in their circumstances. And he connects their experience, at a fundamental level, with our own. Divided as they are between two worlds, two elements, the people in these stories, through the skill and sympathy of their creator, are found to live in both, as they must, along with the rest of us who hug the shore.