Book Review: THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE delivers a fantastic modern fairytale

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is my second foray into Neil Gaiman’s fantastical storytelling, and I am in awe once again, as I was when I read Stardust.

Gaiman has an otherworldly knack for telling modern fairytales, both as a writer and as a narrator. I listened to the audiobook version of this novel, which Gaiman himself narrates.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a fascinating exploration of memory, friendship, and the underpinnings of existence itself.

Told from the perspective of a jaded adult remembering a fantastical experience he had as a young boy, this story is full of wonder, fear, and anxiety about the world of grown-ups and other things as can only be seen through the eyes of a child.

The story begins when the protagonist, unnamed, goes on a drive to get away from the drudgery of a funeral he is attending.

He soon finds himself driving to the lane where he grew, where his house no longer stands, and at the old farmhouse at the end of the lane. He doesn’t quite understand why, but he seems to be drawn to this place. He speaks with the old woman over a spot of tea, then goes to sit by the pond out back, which the little girl he used to know there called an ocean. Then, the memories flood back to him.

This framework story toys with the idea of memory, why we remember the things we do and may be better off not, or remember the things we don’t when those things could change our lives, our very existence.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a rich story that weaves these concepts deftly in and out of the narrative, so you only ever feel like you’re hearing a fairytale, and not a lecture on childhood memory and the forgotten perceptions of adulthood.

Gaiman masterfully narrates the audiobook as well. Having listened to two of his novels on audiobook, and never having read the print copies, it’s actually difficult for me to imagine not hearing these stories told in his deliberate, inquisitive, and soothing narrative style. Other than Jonathan Keeble’s raucous delivery of The Saxon Stories, I can’t think of a narrator who so intrinsically captures the tone of the story they’re reading, let alone an author capturing their own work. Gaiman brings a level of depth to his characters, dialog, and descriptions that I might be able to conjure myself if I read the print version.

Steve D

For Grandpa D’Adamo

My grandfather passed away on August 17. Before driving with my wife and my dad to the funeral on August 22, I asked my aunt if I could read a speech. The wake came, and I didn’t feel comfortable reading the speech. Then the mass came, and I had to stick to the traditional biblical reading. Then the repast came, and my aunt finally encouraged me to at least give a toast, which was basically a brief version of what follows.

Grandpa bottle-feeding me.

I am one of Grandpa’s four grandchildren, and I felt compelled to say a few words about him.

Grandpa was hard of hearing for most of his life. He started having hearing troubles at age three, and it only worsened as he aged. Because of this, I think, he was a generally quiet and reserved man. I think he enjoyed the everyday chatter of life, but years of having trouble holding a  typical conversation taught him to only pay attention when he had to, or when people spoke loudly enough for him to understand. So when he spoke up, you listened.

At least, I did. He would sit with us at the table and just stay quiet four hours, sometimes. But every now and then, unprompted, he would start talking about something from his past. His mother, his cousins, his friends from Brooklyn, or maybe one of the numerous jobs he worked.

You could tell by the way he spoke about people and places that he was naturally curious about the world around him. I always wondered if that was innate, or if he learned to be observant because that was how he could most easily engage with the world. Maybe both.

My cousin and me “wrestling” with Grandpa.

When my sister, our two cousins, and I were younger, he seemed to love nothing more than to spend time with us. We would stroll up and down the boardwalk in Cape May on lovely summer nights, and he never hesitated to pay for dinner, buy us ice cream, or give us a $20 to go play the arcade for a bit. He was happy to buy us gifts from the shops, even when our parents said no. We might have taken advantage of that kindness a time or two, but it didn’t seem to bother him.

He also crafted plenty of gifts for us in his basement workshop. After working as a machinist well into his seventies, he finally retired when my grandmother became sick. After she passed, he dove headfirst into his woodworking hobby. I think we all have several decorations or pieces of furniture that he made.

An eagle that he carved. He later used the same design to adorn shot glass racks he made for my collection.

No matter how beautiful the pieces were, Grandpa never believed they came out right. “Ah, it’s too short,” he’d say, or “I couldn’t get this piece here right.”

But more than anything, I think he just enjoyed sitting around the dinner table or a good card game with us. He would just watch us talk, laugh, and grow together — enjoying each other’s company as a family. The rarer times we saw him laugh — and I mean really laugh — he’d lean back in his chair, lay his hands on his belly, and shake until his face burned red.

And if we were lucky, he’d surprise us with a witty line or a story, like a fleeting memory that nearly passed over him.

Grandpa helping me in his workshop.

Grandpa was always one of my biggest role models, and I’ve thought recently about what that has meant to me, what it will mean to me.

So these are the lessons I will try to carry forward, in tribute to Grandpa, as we grow our family:

Speak and act thoughtfully. Others will value your words and your heart all the more.

Give generously, even if it’s just to put a smile on someone else’s face.

Work diligently and be proud of your accomplishments, even when your creations didn’t quite meet your own expectations.

Make time for those you love. Be present in those moments, and cherish them.

He was 96 years old, and his second and third cousins still referred to him as Brother Ralph. I love you, Grandpa.

Ralph D’Adamo

July 8, 1922 – August 17, 2018

NaShoStoWriMo Story – and Galumphing submission – The Soldiers’ Return

I promised to post one of the stories from my NaShoStoWriMo challenge and I’m only a few days late doing that…this one was inspired by our Galumphing poetry challenge for November. The words were: glass, lake, soldier. This one came in at 713 words – so only a few minutes of your time. Comments and suggestions welcome – I thank everyone for their encouragement regarding my personal short story challenge.

The Soldiers’ Return

By Marcy Erb

When Carl saw the soldiers coming across the pasture in formation, he wasn’t that surprised. He’d seen this before as a child in Germany and so he knew he needed to remain calm. That way, if he was called upon to take any action or speak to the soldiers, he would be able to do so in a dignified manner. Plus, he remembered; nobody else in his family spoke German.

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