While flipping randomly through an older edition of the Greensboro Review, I came across Marlowe Moore’s “Shark Fishers.” Its prose is what first caught my eye. Simplistic but beautiful—the mark of any skilled writer—the language here shines with its clear and clean conveyance, with its truthful rendering of the narrative at hand. Like any great tale will do, it swept me into its setting, into a place where a couple of drab houses line a drab North Carolinian beach on a drab day. I could nearly smell the saltwater. There are so many visceral images; I watched as a character “blew [cigarette] smoke out to the waiting sea oats,” as a car rolled up with “dead barracuda strapped with thick twine to the top . . . like Christmas trees” [93-94].
And yet what I liked even more about this story is what happens within it. At the heart of this tale are two women who are both belittled and suppressed by their male partners. Told in a third-person perspective that comes closest to Chavis’s point of view, we quickly learn that he constantly judges and berates his partner, Emmaline, for continuing to mourn the death of their young child. The other couple is an unnamed shark-fishing duo referred to as the “man” and “fisher-woman,” and here this man also condemns his partner for dwelling on her past, telling her abrasively that nobody wants to hear what she has to say. It becomes clear, too, that the women are also both traumatized: Emmaline over her deceased child, and the fisher-woman for reasons unknown. But it’s clear that the fisher-woman is dealing with her own vein of PTSD because as time progresses, she begins muttering to herself and pasting loose fish scales on her skin. And yet the men are both uncaring and insensitive to them; in fact, they appear to bond over this fact—after one says “Shut up” to the two women, the other echoes it. Moore does a great job with setting up the two problematic relationships, with swiftly swaying my concern and devotion to the two women, despite being told the events (almost) from Chavis’s point of view. And then, after establishing their very serious trials and tribulations, Moore mirrors the men’s bond by bringing the women together in a far more beautiful moment of connection and solidarity.
What I love most about this short story is that it reveals a turning point for the two women. While we don’t get to know what happens after the lovely moment in which they both literally and metaphorically hold one another—by embracing and sharing their painful stories—it’s clear that there has been a reprieve from their typical way of being in the world, if not a shift. And this story leaves you hoping for that shift, hoping the women will eventually choose to stand up for themselves, speak out about their traumas, and perhaps leave their cruel partners to reclaim their own agencies and freedoms.
That being said, as unlikeable and indifferent as the men are, Moore writes in such a way in which the men both still retain some semblance of their humanity. They are strangers but are kind to each other. They enjoy a moment of fishing together. And Chavis even holds Emmaline for a brief moment when she’s crying—until the other man tells him to “get up here and help me” reel in a shark. With the story being written closest to Chavis’s perspective, it serves the dual function of showing that the women are less heard in the world of this story, but also that Chavis isn’t a complete monster. Yes, the men in “Shark Fishers” are terrible, but they are not inhuman supervillains. And ultimately, the story is not about fostering a hatred for the two men, it’s about that pivotal moment of brightness and connection for the two women, about their potential unfettering. If anything, by the end I feel sorry for the two men in their cluelessness. They are living in a sad and “careless” world of their own; as Moore writes in her beautiful closing line, “Chavis and the man kept their backs to the sound of the women’s voices and watched the dark shadow circle in the careless sea amid the mutilated bodies of spot, mullet, and barracuda” . I would highly recommend this short story to anybody looking for a quick but weighty read.
“Shark Fishers” can be found in the 35th Anniversary Issue (Number 70) of The Greensboro Review.
Emma Boggs is a first-year MFA candidate in fiction at UNC Greensboro and an Editorial Assistant for The Greensboro Review.