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In “The Coast of Indiana,” one of five stories in Dan Lopez’s short but impressive collection Part the Hawser, Limn the Sea (Chelsea Station Editions), Cam spends an “impromptu beach day” with his lover Peter and a young woman named Abigail. Peter and Cam have flown to Chicago so Peter can explore a graduate school. While the three are sunning on the shore of Lake Michigan, Abigail asks Cam when he is heading back home. Cam, resentful that she would assume he and Peter wouldn’t be going back together, puts on his sunglasses to “project a cool ambivalence”:
“Tomorrow evening,” I said. “Our flight’s at six. We leave from O’Hare.”
“We’re just visiting the school this time,” Peter said, smiling in a way I immediately recognized as patronizing.
I couldn’t decide whether something larger wasn’t being communicated between them, some judgment passed, some silent understanding beyond my purview.
The scene is hardly the most startling of the collection, but in some ways it may be the one that best exemplifies the quiet drama of Lopez’s writing. In these stories, it isn’t necessarily the big events that are the most revelatory: it’s the glance, the nod, the two men sitting on a boat while “neither of them was making an attempt at conversation.”
The sea is the backdrop for many of these stories. In the title story, two men, one gay and one straight, find each other in a support group for those suffering loss, and when one accompanies the other aboard a boat, they share a quiet yet moving few moments together. “Andrew Barbie” explores the emotional landscape between the narrator and his new lover, Lorenzo, and Jeremy, the narrator’s older ex-lover, who takes them on a boat trip. In “The Cruise,” the narrator becomes transfixed by a young deckhand. When in a moment of rage the boy tears off his shirt, the narrator notes that “we saw for the first time in the naked light of day the battered body we’d so willingly hitched our desires upon. All that we’d built up around him seemed to suddenly burn away. He was just a boy, we realized, incapable of anything.” And in the final story, “Volumes Set Against a Twilight Sky,” Lopez shows us how our relationships with others continue to evolve, even after death, as an architect reads the journals of his deceased lover, Michael.
What’s fascinating about Lopez as a writer is that he chooses to dramatize such intimate moments when the sea has often been the setting for so many larger than life struggles. (It wouldn’t have been a stretch to call some of the high school English classes of the 1970s “Heterosexual White Men in Boats.”) Dan Lopez peoples his sea narratives with gay men, both white and of color, and in doing so reexamines the genre, not unlike Annie’s Proulx’s reexamination of the cowboy narrative in Brokeback Mountain. And when a genre is shaken up, its focus shifts. In “The Coast of Indiana,” Abigail tells Peter that his dog, Lucky, is “friendly to a fault.” “It’s because he’s never known any danger,” Peter replies. In Lopez’s world, the dangers characters face aren’t always where you’d expect them to be.
Part the Hawser, Limn the Sea
By Dan Lopez
Chelsea Station Editions
Hardcover, 9781937627164, 51 pp.