I began reading this short story collection during a stay at a tiny cabin on Minnesota’s Gull Lake and couldn’t have asked for a more perfect setting to enjoy Rebecca Lawton’s stories. Flipping pages to the soundtrack of the waves hitting the shore, I became effortlessly drawn in to the worlds of the Western whitewater river guides. The stories span decades and many circle the lives of two female guides, R.J. and Mare, who make the rivers their home. In the only story in which they appear together, “Weaker than Water,” they discuss the river they are navigating:
This is unbelievably high water.
Yeah, Mare. Un-fucking-believably high. Way higher than it’s supposed to get anymore.
But it’s only water, right? Nothing’s weaker.
Yeah. It can only kill you.
True to the collection’s name, Lawton returns to water again and again; its power, its suddenness, and its necessity to all life. Every major character is in tune with water’s importance, from a spring that gives life to an endangered mountain lion or through the fossils encased in the waves of an ancient sandstone riverbed. Water seeps through the pages, until you can almost hear the sucking eddies and smell the rain, and even though the characters’ lives are easily as tumultuous as a wild river the writing never strays into the obvious metaphors. Lawton nods at the clichés swirling in front of her narrative and easily rows beyond their grip, as in this excerpt from “What I Never Told You.”
You swept like one more drop of water into the foam and waves and sharp falls that together pounded loud and thunderous. You’d spent nights under the dark sky and bright stars, watching the glow on far rims after the moon goes down. You had the distance in you.
What I loved most about this collection was its straightforward prose and glimpses of unexpected beauty. Lawton takes her readers on a river journey that spans every major milestone in human life—conception, love, loss, calling, and rebirth—while never forgetting that we are only here by the grace of the water that flows beneath us.