Exploring the art of prose


Linked Story Collections: SWALLOWED BY THE COLD

Linked story collections often seem like that halfway point between a collection of unconnected stories and a novel. Done well, a linked collection can add up to something more than its parts, a reading experience that expands beyond the limits of the novel. Jensen Beach’s Swallowed by the Cold is such a collection.

Each of the sixteen stories stands on its own; eleven stories were published in journals prior to the publication of the collection. But the way that Beach has combined the stories here adds meaning to each story in how it reflects against and bounces off the stories that surround it. There is such readerly pleasure in encountering a character later in a book, but this time from a different perspective. For example, we first meet Louise through the eyes of her husband Martin in “Kino,” the second story in the collection. The next time that we encounter Louise is in “The Apartment,” a story that rests close to the end. And this time we get to know Louise and Martin through her point-of-view. Some of what we learned through Martin stays fast; other things shift and make us reconsider the earlier story. It is in this prism shifting that the collection becomes so much more than a novel.

One of the difficulties, of course, of a linked collection is knowing how much information needs to be retold in order for the story to work on its own as well as part of a collection. Beach excels in this as well by shifting perspective and also by placing most of the stories in a small town in Sweden. We don’t know this place, of course, and so the place serves as a character as well, one that we are invested in learning more about. As the collection progresses, we become more at home in this place and with these people; the collection moves beyond the specifics and towards the universal.

by Laura Spence-Ash