Hayden's Ferry Review


Issue #45 Preview: The Name of the Thing

I'm not one for titles. I appreciate witty ones but I usually find them to be functionally descriptive or useful as mere labels to distinguish one story from another. This probably apocryphal anecdote about Somerset Maugham's advice to a young writer about how to title his recently finished novel comes to mind:
"Does it have drums in it?"
"No, sir."
"Does it have bugles in it?"
"No, sir."
"Call it No Drums, No Bugles."
(I'm definitely using that title in the future so don't steal it.)

But the title to Matt Bell's story in Issue 45, "Dredge," struck me for a number of reasons. For one, it sounds like the word "dread," both of them rough Anglo-Saxon words, with "dredge" having the symmetry of soft "g" sounds bookending an almost guttural vowel. And both sound a bit like "dead." It's an appropriate association because, as the story progresses, one's sense of dread grows, not in the ominous Lovecraftian way (though the subject matter might incline one to think it) but in a way that simply suggests things will not turn out well by the time the story ends. The title, the deepening of a waterway by digging up the bottom, also works on an imagistic and metaphoric level: digging up the past, bringing suppressed emotions to the surface, piecing together a mystery from the bits and pieces found embedded in muck. Dredge, for me, also has a connotation of messy and methodical manual labor, which prefigures the way the main character, Punter, goes about his business.

Hopefully, I'm not giving too much away but "Dredge" sort of answers the question, "What if one of the fishermen in Carver's 'So Much Water, So Close to Home' was obsessive, unstable, and had brought the body home with him?" Here, Punter stores the body he finds at the beginning of the story (the imagery is fitting):
"In the garage, he lifts the lid of the chest freezer that sits against the far wall. He stares at the open space above the paper-wrapped bundles of venison, tries to guess if there's enough room, then stacks the meat on the floor, makes piles of burger and steak and sausage until he's sure. He goes out to the car and opens the back door. He lifts the girl, grunting as he gathers her into his arms like a child. He's not as strong as he used to be, and she's heavier than she looks, with all the water filling her lungs and stomach and intestinal tract. Even through her tank top he can see the way it bloats her belly like she's pregnant. He's careful with her as he lays her down in the freezer, careful as he brushes the hair out of her eyes again, as he holds her eyelids closed until he's sure they'll stay that way."
Matt Bell's writing is strange, in that good way which brings charm and mystery to a story. And it started from the very beginning with the title. There's plenty strangeness and charm in the same vein with the other stories in this issue. It was a real pleasure to include them. Hope you enjoy.

-Brian Lee
Prose Editor