KLATSAND, FORMERLY FISH CREEK, IN OREGON is a tiny settlement that grows over four generations to become an off-the-beaten-track and less than fashionable coastal resort town. It lies on the Pacific coast of Oregon and is only separated from that mighty body of water by the Searoad of the title. In one poem, ten short stories and one longer assemblage of diary entries from the ladies of three generations of one local family, and occasional interjections from a fourth generation, we are introduced to a variety of residents and passing personnel who interact with their surroundings. In sharing the lives of these people we are enabled to see some of the pivotal events of the twentieth century on those whose lives are lived outside of the mainstream of American Society.
There are two factors, for me, that make this a hugely enjoyable but quite difficult book to read. Firstly, the language is so beautiful in its own right that it is very difficult to concentrate on the content of the stories rather than the words themselves. This is one book that should definitely be read, and loved, as a paper copy rather than an electronic one. Every word carries the feeling that it has been deliberated over at length, and chosen then placed with surgical precision. The language of all the stories and diary entries verges on the poetic and flows with the same effortless motion as the Pacific Ocean, which borders one side of the Searoad.
The second factor is the time sequencing of the narratives. Following on from the introductory poem, there are ten short stories that form what may be considered as part one of the book. They each focus on the occupants of one of the establishments in the settlement of Klatsand, and each fits into its own era, but the sequence is not a linear time-line. All these stories were originally published as stand-alone shorts in a variety of American journalistic publications, which means that each is a totally self-contained unit in one sense, but when they are all put together, as they are here, then the connections begin to emerge.
The final story is titled simply Hernes, and is written in the style of diary entries from four ladies of Klatsand. This is not recorded as having been published separately anywhere else, which gives rise to the feeling that it was written to tie together the earlier shorts into a more cohesive narrative.
Fanny Crane Shawe Ozer is the matriarch of the Herne family, although her daughter Jane Shawe Herne is the first to bear the name of the title. Like her mother, she was postmistress of Klatsand for a while and thus deeply interwoven into many of the Klatsand residents’ lives. Lily Frances and Virginia continue the line, with each one being very much a woman of her time without ever becoming a stereotype.
In overall summary, this is a story of American life and times in a part of America that got marooned in the mid-twentieth century, epitomising the good and the bad that go with that time and place. It is an enjoyable, entertaining and enlightening read, which shows a different side of Le Guin’s writing when compared to her, arguably more well-known, fantasy works such as the Earthsea Quartet.
– David A. Troman