Review

Other Fish in the Sea

by Lisa Kusel



Elly Fisher is confused --- and confusing. The jacket copy for Lisa
Kusel's OTHER FISH IN THE SEA describes Elly, the link between the
ten stories within, as "a brash, searching, adventurous young woman
whose desire for love and understanding takes her to places as far
flung as a ranch in Colorado, a newspaper's personal ads, Europe,
and even into the arms of a married man." The confused part is
evident from this brief description; Elly hasn't settled down and
perhaps doesn't know what she wants.

What makes Elly confusing is more complicated. Kusel's device of
weaving Elly in and out of the stories from different perspectives
shows the author's cleverness, moxie and finely tuned sensibility.
Her mother, carefully groomed inside and out, comes to life in
"Juvenile Hall." Lydia Jimenez, the self-taught artist and narrator
of "Prairie Dogs," experiences Elly's unsettling presence on a
cattle ranch. Scott Rusk, D.D.S. sees Elly through the lens of his
own troubled marriage. From Elly's therapist to her friends to her
sometimes hapless and nearly always temporary lovers, we learn
about aspects of her life but are never sure of the precise
chronology.

Trying to grasp Elly Fisher seems impossible, like trying to catch
a single minnow with a normal-sized fish hook. That may of course
be Kusel's point: which character in this collection might claim to
truly know Elly? Even Naomi sees a different Elly than the one who
appears in the previous stories: "She liked the fact that Elly
didn't find complete happiness in her travels, either in love or in
adventure, but she wouldn't say that out loud." Like the stories of
so many of the other fish in our various seas, Elly's remains
incomplete. In "Bones" therapist Maxine asks Elly, "How do you want
to be?" and Elly answers, "I want to be able to take more
initiative without thinking of the outcomes before they even
happen." In some of these stories, it seems as if the author
herself thought of the outcomes and then became inhibited by
them.

While there are problems with OTHER FISH IN THE SEA --- some
unconvincing dialogue and thin characterization in spots --- there
are also moments of true insight and beauty. The title story (at
sixty pages, the longest and most fully realized) brings together
the ideas of dream narrative, perfect love and fate. That's a lot,
and the story isn't perfect --- but it is haunting. Given a choice
between achieving perfection or making an impression, my guess is
that both Kusel and her character Elly would choose the
latter.

Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on January 22, 2011

Other Fish in the Sea
by Lisa Kusel

  • Publication Date: September 3, 2003
  • Genres: Short Stories
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • ISBN-10: 0786888024
  • ISBN-13: 9780786888023