“At the city limits there was a sign that said Welcome to, and then the name of the town carved into the wood.” Brian Warfield’s novella, Beach Story, is as mysterious as the town’s welcome sign. While the tale is ridden with melancholy, Warfield’s offbeat humor and commitment to sensory detail at least bring the reader to a happy place. In its tiny but complete package, Beach Story is delightful to read.
In this city, beach season is ruined by a boardwalk altercation that ends in violence. Entranced by the scene: Daniel, an egg sandwich enthusiast; Claudia, a sand digger; Chad, who finds coins on the office floor; and other members of the woeful town. With little over a thousand people, loneliness and sadness linger. Something beautiful about Warfield’s writing is the way his characters' individual sadness leaks into moments of plot. Officer Petty interrupts his own case notes to say to himself, “Wasting life away. You spent nights partying. You needed to get your life in order. Is your life in order.” These moments of emotion away from the central story are what makes this novella exceptional. He says to himself, “You are sad. You are a sad person.” In this way, there is a strong insight into each character’s thoughts.
Even the children suffer neuroses. After a summary of a five-year-old’s nightmare, Warfield writes, “He could feel his own feet at the foot of the bed. They didn’t feel a part of him anymore. Maybe they had been severed and reattached.” Like this, there are valuable and elaborate descriptions of feeling. At many times, Beach Story feels like a body high. Warfield’s clever way with words is helpful in stomaching bits of writing, which is sometimes graphic and unsettling. For instance, he writes, “Muriel also put a piece of meat in her mouth. It sat there, dead, like a finger or dragon.” The references to severed limbs and appendages thread the crime story through the book. While Warfield strays in feeling, he does not stray in story. The violence haunts the narrative. It seeps into the story, like, “She wanted to lay herself out flat and have the feet of walkers step on her face, the wheels of cars to roll over her breasts.” What is so admirable about this book amidst gruesomeness is its clear purpose -- there is a definite arc of turmoil in this town.
Beach Story is less about the beach and more about the way the town perceives the beach . . . and they love it. They crave it. Even amidst the morbidity of local violence, “the townspeople would be irate if the beach remained closed much longer.” There is a surreal note to this book. Because while the town has everything it needs—a grocery store, a post office, a justice system—it lacks a sort of fulfillment. A fulfillment that can only be achieved at the beach. At the expense of safety, this city is full of people who really just want to swim. If you “want to go swimming, but the beach is still closed,” Warfield’s Beach Story is a perfect read for the off-season.
Publisher: Heavy Contortionists
Release Year: 2015