Essays and Criticism
Anthony Doerr Overview
With his first collection of short stories, Anthony Doerr at age twenty-eight achieved immediate recognition from coast to coast. ‘‘Doerr’s prose dazzles,’’ wrote Nancy Willard in the New York Times, ‘‘his sinewy sentences blending the naturalist’s unswerving gaze with the poet’s gift for metaphor.’’ Tamara Straus, a reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle, characterized Doerr’s literary ancestry as a combination of ‘‘Henry David Thoreau (for his pantheistic passions) and Gabriel Garcia Marquez (for his crystal-cut prose and dreamy magic realism).’’
The publication of The Shell Collector: Stories not only earned Doerr comparisons with Flannery O’Connor, a master of the short story, but also resulted in his being credited with the revival of the American short story itself. ‘‘In his first collection of short stories, young Anthony Doerr shows the big kids how it’s done,’’ Nancy Connors wrote in the Plain Dealer. ‘‘And he goes a long way toward cleaning up the bad reputation some of his elders have given the short story.’’ Connors observed in her review of The Shell Collector that the genre had of late given way to stories that were ‘‘pretentious, silly, or meaningless.’’ Doerr’s stories, however, ‘‘are polished jewels,’’she continued.
Doerr, who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, lived in Africa and New Zealand before moving to Boise, Idaho. All these landscapes come into play in this collection. In the title story, a blind man, self-exiled to an African archipelago, discovers a potential cure for blindness in a poisonous snail. In ‘‘The Caretaker,’’ set in Liberia, a man leaves home to search for his mother, who is late coming home from the market, only to stumble into a nightmarish world where he is forced to kill a man. Eventually, he escapes to Oregon, where he finds work as a caretaker, but he cannot escape the torment of his memories until five whales become beached nearby and his response to them redeems him. ‘‘The Hunter’s Wife,’’ set in Montana, tells the story of a relationship between an outdoorsman and a...
(The entire section is 882 words.)