I Read Anthony Doerr’s ‘The Shell Collector’.

steve cuocci
3 min readMay 2, 2024

After adoring the two books by Anthony Doerr that I read, I came home one day to a copy of The Shell Collector on our dining room table. It was inevitable that I was going to need to continue to read all of the books that this man has written, simply to engage with the breadth of his mind, to sort of see where his ideas come from and where they end up going. This is (as far as I can tell) his earliest published collection, a book of 8 short stories that go all over the world and back from the core of underrivers of rural America to the sprawling jungles and forests of Tanzania. Some of them are fantastic, beyond the realm of physical reality, embracing a breed of magic that seems to rest just beyond our field of vision and some of them are tensely grounded in a calm and solemn reality.

As I’ve spoken about many times, collections of short stories are rarely flawless. There are some that set the tone for the rest of the stories, there are some that set the bar incredibly high, and there are some that feel like a writing exercise which ended up being included simply to round out the roster. I was surprised to see a couple of the stories in this book hover around some kind of average writing level, mostly because the two works from Doerr that I’d read before are award-winning novels. These are over a decade older than those stories, so the amount of work he got to put in is massive. There are times where you can see the early seeds of his style being planted. The way that he can zoom in on the microcosms of the mundane and make them beautiful universes of detail and flourish is something I’ve seldom read from any other author. But in turn, there are a couple of stories in this book which read almost exactly like a Cormac McCarthy superfan picked up a typewriter after putting down Blood Meridian and tried to emulate the gnarled and deathly honest style.

I loved that Doerr’s protagonists in these tales were varied so vastly. There was a teenage girl, a man who ran from his wartorn nation, a woman battered by her sister’s engagements, a dreamer, a hunter. It was this last character, the hunter, whose story I believe I loved the most. In The Hunter’s Wife, we see the mercurial fluctuations and mutations of Love and the perceptions of two people coming at the union from different angles. What it means to compromise, what it means to live (and to Live). We also get that taste of peculiar magic I spoke of earlier, where one can’t tell too clearly if we are experiencing something supernatural or more powerful that comes from our own inherent human nature.

Overall, very happy I read this book! I don’t recommend it outwardly, though I would say if you have been a fan of the author, his style is clearly telegraphed here and it plants the seeds for what would inevitably become an incredibly artistic and masterful design,