Strange Horizons, 18 September 2006

Note: This post was imported from an old content-management system, so please excuse any inconsistencies in formatting.

"Sounding" by Elizabeth Bear

"Sounding" by Elizabeth Bear is the story of a New England fisherman’s family going through hard times.  Allen "Cully" and Pen Cullen struggle to keep their family fed and housed while the catch dwindles.  Pen takes care of the home and children while Cully is out to sea.  At the beginning, Cully sees a mother fin whale and her calf.  They swim alongside the boat, and he even lets them lead the way. 

The central choice in "Sounding" is between land and sea.  Bear does an excellent job of setting this up with sections that alternate between Pen on land, and Cully on sea.  Pen is even gardening in her first section.  Cully’s sections hold most of the story’s action, while Pen’s provide the introspection.  This made this story feel a little lopsided at first, but it evens out as it becomes apparent that the two are halves of a whole.
Much of the writing is beautiful, although the description became a little repetitious in spots.  It slowed the otherwise perfectly measured pace, although not by too much.

My biggest criticism was that I thought Cully’s reasoning behind his choice at the end was based on an incorrect assumption regarding his insurance policy.  It wasn’t clear whether the reader was supposed to know something that Cully did not.  

I found "Sounding" stylish, with lush imagery that effectively evoked the sea such that it overshadowed the land, providing a striking parallel for Pen and Cully’s financial dilemma.