Stefanie Freele’s collection, Surrounded by Water, contains stories with strong, often lyrical, language and believable, down-to-earth characters, each piece, a reading experience. It’s her women I am drawn to. They’re tough. In “Over the Rolling Waters Go,” the creeping reality of a wife and mother is juxtaposed against the peppy gung-ho spirit of her husband and his idea of family dynamic. What seems at first blush to be an innocent virtue turns out to be bullying very quickly. The suspense builds and…I won’t talk about the ending.
Another mother, in the short but totally satisfying, “If the Unsuitable Neighbor Smells Snow,” shows her own fierce determination.
“A Bunch of Cash Landed my Way” brings us humorous wishful thinking and “The Problem of Pillows” illustrates Ms. Freele’s deft touch at dialogue. For example, when a student runs into professor with the instincts of a sybil.
“You again,” she [the professor] says without glancing my way. “You’re not locked in the Bermuda Triangle.” This is stated like a professorial fact, one she may test me on next Tuesday.
I check my person and confirm I’m not locked anywhere; but as always, I’m intrigued by mention of the Bermuda Triangle, a place you may enter, but gamble on an exit. I respond, “I’m free to come and go.”
The professor predicts the student will need a new pillow and because the prof has been right in the past, and the old pillow is one of “procrastination,” the student runs out and buys a new one, “a down one, filled with pluckings from once-warm bodies.” One of my favorite lines in the story is “All of my unfinished business lies upon that pillow, snuggles along its two-hundred thread count loveliness.”
Wonderful combination of image and meaning and this kind of language can be found throughout.
And then there is “While Surrounded by Water,” for which the collection has been named. I’m tempted to call it a “flash novel” because though it is the length of a short story, the content is as gratifying as a much longer work with characters in crisis coming to grips with who they are. Once again there is a strong, tough woman at its center, one who is underappreciated but full of life and determination. This seems to be a theme in Ms. Freele’s work. Quiet triumphs over what life dishes out.
Published by Press 53 out of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with gorgeous cover designed by Kevin Morgan Watson and art by Dariusz Klimczak, Surrounded by Water is a collection worthy of a large appreciative audience.