Ethan Rutherford’s “The Peripatetic Coffin”

Ethan Rutherford’s “The Peripatetic Coffin”

I’ll admit a bias: my father was in the U.S. Navy and served on submarines for most of his 26-year career. When I was a child, my family lived on the Navy base in Groton, CT, and I remember being awed when I toured the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered sub. I was impressed by its sheer size, this black tube somehow afloat, but I also remember being struck by how cramped its interior was. Some spaces seem designed to make you feel claustrophobic, and so it was with this historic vessel.

Rutherford’s story is set on the CSS Hunley, a submarine built by the Confederates during the Civil War. I absolutely love the story’s language, which is vibrant, sad, and often funny. Oftentimes, fairly or not, I think a lot of people associate stories set during a historic period with sepia-toned prose and irrelevance, but from the beginning to the end (and what an ending!), “The Peripatetic Coffin” is fascinating and immediate.

This story was published this year in American Short Fiction and was recently selected to appear in the upcoming Best American Short Stories anthology. You can find the story in PDF form at ASF’s website: http://www.americanshortfiction.org/images/pdf/rutherford.pdf

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