'Searoad', one of LeGuin's few published works of realistic fiction, is a collection of twelve tales written circa 1990 and set in the fictional town of Klatsand on the Oregon coast. All are in short-story format except for the first (the single-page proem 'Foam Women, Rain Women') and the last (the novella 'Hernes'). All of the stories are set in the present-day era, except for 'Hernes', which chronicles the lives four generations of Oregon women and is set partly in historical time.
There are occasional nods to science fiction and fantasy: there is Rosemarie Tucket, who has a passion for SF books and a fantasy friendship with an alien 'energy man'; Frances, the narrator of 'True Love' who offers insights into Star Trek and the identity of Captain Kirk's true love; there's the apparition of Ailie's mother, and there's Johanna, who begins to see mysterious messages in the foam; and there's the visionary Lily Frances Herne, who sees angels.
But mostly they are slices of daily life in a small town. Some of the moments that stayed with me: Rosemarie's fantasy life; the 'True Love' narrator's passion for books (in her blessedly pre-internet world); Bill Weisler's existential horror upon learning that flawed works can be sold for more than perfect ones; Deb Shoto's struggle with the demon inside of her; Warren's unsuccessful attempts to avoid, and his final reconciliation with, the party of pensioners in the small town (and, implicitly, his acceptance of his own mortality); the bereaved lesbian Shirley in 'Quoits', the de facto stepmother of Barbara's children; the gradual fleshing out of Ava's character through the eyes of other characters; Jane's anguish at having "failed" to "protect" her daughter Lily (concretized in the dream-image of a watch, punning on the "watch" that she believes she failed to keep, and echoed in Fanny's earlier grieving over the loss of Johnny, p. 192); the recurring images of the Oregon coast and of the foam on the seashore; paradoxes about language and existence (how can a person "be dead" if they no longer exist? and the multiple meanings and connotations of the word "body"); and the image of the 'rain women' at the beginning. I wonder who the rain women are.
Death haunts many of the stories. There are recurring references to the body, living and dead:
- 'You couldn't *be* dead. You couldn't be anything but alive. If you weren't alive, you weren't ... you had been.' (p. 33)
- '"My father hated for the male nurses to touch her," Sue said.' (p. 39)
- 'But when the word for what you made love to was the same as for a corpse it sounded like it didn't matter whether the body was alive or dead.' (p. 58)
- 'She did not like her saying "I hated for men to touch Mother's body - it sounded glib, theatrical.' (p. 121)
There are also recurring references to the sound of the sea, and its effect on the various characters.
LeGuin has lived in Portland since 1959 and knows the region well. 'Searoad' made me want to visit the coast. It also made me think about the public and private lives of the people around me, and about how we relate to our ultimate journey out of this world.