CHRISTINE BRUNKHORST Star Tribune
“Swirling” by Sarah Stonich; University of Minnesota Press, 276 pages, $15.95.
After reading a novel by Sarah Stonich, I want to go fishing. I want to sit in a boat at dawn and place a surface Rapala between fallen logs and bring it back to calm water. In his latest novel, “Reeling” – the second in a planned trilogy – Stonich dives into this meditative state, carrying the reader away with a beautiful story of love and heartbreak.
As in “Fishing,” the first novel in the Minnesota writer’s trilogy (original title: “Fishing With RayAnne”), RayAnne Dahl is the host of an all-female fishing show on public television. It’s the show’s second season, and RayAnne and her team are on location in New Zealand. As they traverse the rugged terrain to interview secret planet-saving women, RayAnne reevaluates her life.
His brother Kyle is a full-time father and “dead-end foot soldier”, who, while raising hyperactive boys, struggles with an attraction to his wife’s sister. RayAnne’s absent father married a Bible-loving widow. Her hot boyfriend may be losing interest because she can’t commit, and her mom is counseling menopausal clients in holy hotspots. But what distracts RayAnne the most, what makes her imagine things, is the recent death by suicide of her grandmother.
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As anyone who has ever felt grief knows, our loved ones come to us, or at least we long for them to. RayAnne’s desire brings Gran to her cell phone, GPS monitor, rear view mirror – as a supportive and courageous guide in this most arduous adventure.
“Grief is a truckload of cement that endlessly unloads shapeless heaps of gray where your loved one was,” RayAnne thinks, as even the smallest things remind him of the woman who loved him more than anyone in the world. The battered hands of a guest on her show are reminiscent of “her grandmother’s physical appearance: her smell…the clap of her mealy hands, her warmth, the way her clumsy laughter shook her whole body.”
The book is filled with beautiful landscapes and piercing descriptions of grief; unobstructed views outside reveal turbulent waters within. But as RayAnne goes through the stages of grief (the chapters are borrowed from the Kubler-Ross phases), she persists in the series, sometimes hilarious and always skillfully.
This is a fun, important and tender read. The women whose stories RayAnne tells are rare and strong. These are the salmon that arise against the tide of our society, driven by instinct and the desire to bring life to life. I’m glad we see them tender upstream in this book. And I’m glad Stonich is showing them to us because beyond being an entertaining tale, this book is a tribute to all the older women in our lives who quietly move life forward by filling the world with love.
Christine Brunkhorst is an editor and reviewer for Twin Cities.