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Nothing Like an Ocean

Nothing Like an Ocean: Stories

Jim Tomlinson
Series: Kentucky Voices
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Nothing Like an Ocean
    Book Description:

    Jim Tomlinson's previous book of short stories, Things Kept, Things Left Behind, won the prestigious Iowa Short Fiction Award and received enthusiastic reviews. The New York Times compared the strong sense of place in Tomlinson's writing to that found in the works of Flannery O'Connor and Alice Munro. The stories in his new collection, Nothing Like An Ocean, also reflect Tomlinson's awareness of place, revisiting the fictional town of Spivey, a community in rural Appalachia where the characters confront difficult circumstances and, with quiet dignity, try to do what is right. In the title story, Tomlinson explores themes of forgiveness and acceptance in the lives of two characters, Alton Wood, a high school math teacher isolated by grief, and his sister Fran, who is emotionally paralyzed by her part in a tragic death. The two take halting steps back into the world after Alton receives an anonymous invitation to a church singles dance. These themes also underlie "Angel, His Rabbit, and Kyle McKell," which tells of Dempsie's evening with two men -- her volatile boyfriend and the recently returned Iraq War amputee whose secret she has been keeping. Loss and the inevitability of change recur in Tomlinson's stories. In "Overburden," Ben, a man simultaneously contemplating AARP membership and impending fatherhood, travels with his wife, Sarah, back to eastern Kentucky to visit the oak tree that was essential to their courtship, only to find the site as barren and featureless as the moon, a casualty of mountaintop removal mining. "So Exotic" draws us into the worn environs of Rita's Huddle In Café, where the owner becomes the confidant of Quilla, a mousy bank teller who blossoms as the muse of an eccentric artist from Belarus. The eleven stories in Nothing Like An Ocean evoke a strong sense of small-town Kentucky life, finding humor in the residents' foibles while never diminishing their inner lives. Tomlinson's masterful fiction captures light and dark moments, moments that are foreign yet deeply familiar, as his characters seek redemption and sometimes find unexpected grace..

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7336-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Nothing Like An Ocean
    (pp. 1-16)

    When two tickets to the over-forty singles mixer at Spivey Independent Christian Church arrived in the mail, Alton Wood thought they were a mistake. Still he couldn’t help wondering. He found the discarded envelope and examined it. It was hand addressed, his name and street in slanted turquoise script, the letters neat and wide-looped. None of his high school science students used ink like that, none he had now, none he remembered from recent years. And none wrote so legibly. Perforations along one end revealed where stubs had been removed from each ticket.

    “There’s no return address,” he told his...

  5. Angel, His Rabbit, and Kyle McKell
    (pp. 17-37)

    The day Angel brought that damn rabbit home, I told myself it was nothing to get upset about. I told myself it was just this minor, annoying thing. I’d been around long enough to know that’s how boyfriends can be—annoying—especially once they’ve moved in. This time I wanted things to be different. I wanted Angel to stay. I’d try hard to tolerate his ways, because, honestly, Angel’s got so many good qualities. Putting up with things, I’d decided, was better than always getting into it. Getting into it is what my mother would do.

    Anyway, about Angel’s rabbit....

  6. A Male Influence in the House
    (pp. 38-62)

    Robert slid a tampon from the box his mother kept beneath the bathroom sink. It seemed such a perfect thing, such a secret and mysterious thing, wrapped as it was in crisp white paper. There was a prickling sensation on the boy’s skin and an energy he could hardly restrain in his fingers, his hands, the muscles of his legs. Behind his eyes, an urgent ache took hold.

    The boy stood, and as he did, he glimpsed his pale reflection in the mirror. “What’s your problem?” he asked. He wedged the tampon between two fingers like a fat cigarette and...

  7. Singing Second Part
    (pp. 63-80)

    The afternoon Eddie Kenton gunned the engine on his new ’67 Mustang outside the Embry house, I expect he thought I’d come running out all moony-eyed and giggly. He was twenty. I’d just turned fifteen, although folks generally take me for older. Most girls considered Eddie handsome, and he seemed to share that opinion. Didn’t matter to me. Katy Davies had more important concerns than showy boys with fast cars.

    Maybe he thought he was first to come around. He wasn’t, and not by a long shot. He was just first here in Spivey. Back when I lived home, Reverend...

  8. Overburden
    (pp. 81-98)

    “We’re still eligible,” Ben’s wife, Sarah, calls from the veranda.

    He mutes the sound on theTucson Morning News.“AARP?” he asks. He means it as a joke, although his age—he is fifty-four—has been on his mind lately.

    “Speak for yourself, old man,” she says. Sarah is forty-five. She is also six months pregnant.

    “What then?” Ben asks.

    “The art and craft fair,” she says. “The Appalachian Guild. We can still do their fair. We’re invited.”

    She’s taken her laptop outside this morning, along with her orange juice, her vitamins, and the single cup of coffee she allows...

  9. So Exotic
    (pp. 99-110)

    “He’s so exotic,” Quilla whispers to Rita, “don’t you think?” She’s talking about Georgi Vijov, of all people.

    Most mornings Quilla Coe shows up at Rita’s Huddle In Café around nine-thirty. The morning rush lets up about then, and Rita can use a break. She’ll pour coffee for herself and take tea to Quilla in booth six. For a few minutes, Rita will sit, shoes off, feet propped on the opposite seat, and they’ll talk. Not long ago it occurred to Rita that she and Quilla are friends. She marvels at this. They’re such an unlikely pair.

    Quilla is built...

  10. Rose
    (pp. 111-111)

    For weeks after your hospital stay, I brought you roses, a dozen each morning. Online you bought me an inflatable lady, named her “Rose”—your delightful, sick-wife humor.

    You unfurled Rose’s vinyl skin, uncapped the plastic tube tucked into her back, and slipped it between your pallid lips. How long did you take, inflating her, pausing breathlessly, yet refusing help?

    You’re gone now. It’s been one long, hollow year.

    I find Rose in our closet. She’s saggy and sad. I uncap her plastic tube and pull her close. On my cheek, my neck, I feel again your whisper-soft breath....

  11. Birds of Providence
    (pp. 112-124)

    Sometimes Denton Weeks would park across from Alyssa’s apartment building, the twelve-story balconied box she moved to when they broke up. Through the windshield, he’d watch as people whooshed in and out of the lobby door. Slumped behind the steering wheel, he’d remember those few weeks when he and Alyssa—housemates, coworkers, and rising stars at Coughlin Securities—had been lovers too.

    He’d recall her sly smile, how her laughter would erupt, how her scent lingered on the pillow long after she’d left the bed. And when he’d overdosed on remembered love, when he felt completely pathetic, he’d slip his...

  12. The Persistence of Ice
    (pp. 125-134)

    February 4, 2008

    Mr. Lisle Titsworth Sr.

    Room 412, St. Francis Extended Care Facility

    1135 Charles Blvd.

    Louisville KY 40213

    Dear Father,

    Shortly I will explain why you receive a letter from your loving son written in unfamiliar hand, this in lieu of my customary Saturday visit. Surely you noticed that I was not there this past week or the prior one. The reasons stem from a situation that has developed with a student in recent weeks, a situation which, in the beginning, I thought quite trivial. In light of your current state of health, I thought it best that...

  13. Shadow Flag
    (pp. 135-152)

    I feel strangely anonymous here in my old hometown. Untethered. Twenty-five years I’ve been gone, with just brief stopovers, which is what this one will have to be. Twenty-five years, and this town has forgotten John Fain. It might as well be forever.

    I’m sitting at the counter of Rita’s Huddle In Café, feeling reflective, nostalgic, poking my fork at what’s left of a slice of Dutch apple pie. Rita topped it with cheddar and warmed it in the oven when I asked. Her gaze slid right over me though. Maybe she’s busy. Or maybe she’s forgotten the slim boy...

  14. Berliner
    (pp. 153-164)

    Sylvie, my wife, first told part of it as she cleared supper dishes almost three years ago. That was late 1960. “Aurie, dear,” she said, “did you know that Jack Kennedy’s a Gemini, the same as you?”

    Sylvie had heard this from one of the few paying customers who patronized her new stitchery shop. As I understand it, some psychic had charted the heavens for the precise day Kennedy was born, and he determined that the man who would become our president in less than a month was destined for greatness. Of all his predictions, the one that seemed to...