It’s like Anthony Doerr aspires to be the David Attenborough of literature. Always seeking to inspire us to remain goggle-eyed by the beauties of the natural world. Pretty much every story in this collection has as its theme an individual’s relationship with the natural world. And the natural world is always called upon to act as a guru – because Doerr, you suspect, is something of an old hippie at heart. He’s deeply attached to ideas of escapism and rainbow endings. Drifting dangerously close to sentimentality at times, or plummeting headlong into it as was the case with his first novel, About Grace. I couldn’t help feeling while reading this that, if he still wants to write about the natural world, he should write a novel about the damage being done to the environment, to the natural world. If the natural world is a constant source of life-enhancing stimulants, as he’s constantly reminding us, how about tackling the more meaty subject of its desecration by human greed?
Another of his favourite subjects is the handicapped outcast groping his or her way towards a soulmate. In this collection he has both a deaf character and a blind character and it’s like getting a sneak preview of early drafts of All the Light. The more of an author’s work you read the more you realise how essentially limited are his/her spheres of influence. They say authors only ever write the same book over and over again and this truism is evident here.
Unlike most books of short stories I didn’t feel there were any stand out stories meshed in with lame sub-standard affairs here. All the stories were on about the same level – enjoyable, well-written, well-crafted. Nothing spectacular but nothing poor either. Essentially I had a sense of a writer honing his craft.