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Reviewed by Tom Gauthier for Readers' Favorite
There are few inhabited places on earth as remote as the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides of Northern Scotland. A windswept victim of whatever the North Atlantic Ocean storms deliver with unchecked fury. These same storms gather the flotsam of a world far away and gently deliver it to the hightide mark of the beaches. This is the setting that Dianne Ebertt Beeaff has chosen for her cleverly composed stories of lives as disparate as a Chicago widow in Quebec and a North Carolina shrimper’s daughter in a hurricane gleaned from a discovery on a small beach on the west coast of the Isle of Harris.
A young writer, Erica Winchat, has come to this place on holiday, seeking some refuge from the stress of her first writing contract and her doubts about her ability to write more. Walking along Tràigh Lar, she stumbles on a seaweed tangle of fishnet flotsam. Idly curious she counts thirteen items in the jumble. And sees a story in each one. Who lost these? Where did they come from? Erica sets out to tell their stories and the result is a collection of stories, uniquely written around a character named for a wildflower that grows on the machair above the beach, Tràigh Lar, where she stands. Thirteen unique and compelling stories of the lives and the dramatic events that left their shadow thousands of miles away and set an item afloat into the unknown. Common items, a cigarette lighter, a jar of pickled onions, the handle of a child’s bucket, an empty ketchup holder, a green plastic laundry basket, a packet of arthritis pills … with uncommon stories. The last item, the thirteenth, a laminated badge for entrance to a rock concert, inspires Erica to write a novella with the separate first-person stories of four fans of the Scottish rock band Datha. A story that culminates in their reunion at a concert in Chicago. And a tragic ending.
I was immediately drawn to Dianne Ebertt Beeaff’s writing style in On Tràigh Lar Beach. It is free, fresh, and spontaneous yet peppered with crisp particulars of setting and people. A stream of consciousness that reflects how real people actually think and brings her characters to the front, shoulder to shoulder with me as I read. Each of the characters that Diane introduces through Erica is dealing with their own unique demons. She is masterful in allowing them, in the first person, to slowly reveal their circumstance and ability to deal – or not deal – with it. Especially with the four rock star fans, we see a range from dangerous addictive personality to devil-may-care/comme ci comme ça flings, delivered without pop-psych analysis. Just allowing us to be there, feel, see, hear, and care about each individual as they experience elation and despair, soaring and plunging through their lives. Dianne Ebertt Beeaff deserves every accolade for On Tràigh Lar Beach.