PEPPER CRAB | Sara Rauch
⇒When it comes to travel narratives, any place or situation is fair game. Whether we’re talking about trekking the Andes or slurping margaritas in Cancun, there is potential for a good story–in the hands of a skilled writer who can craft a vivid setting and authentic situation. Still, I prefer a story in which the character(s) go someplace new, exotic, dangerous. “Pepper Crab” by Sara Rauch does exactly that, placing a western family on a remote beach in Indonesia.
Here’s the situation: the family of four westerners has been wandering around the Asia Pacific for some time, eating strange foods and taking in foreign sights and experiences. We have the two parents, the (presumably) older sister Tess, and her brother Timmy, from whose perspective the narrative is delivered. The plot is extremely simple, deceptively simple: the family takes a bus to this beach, buys some pretty stones from a girl, ventures out onto a rickety boardwalk, and goes to eat spicy crabs. Did I spoil anything for you? I doubt it: that told you virtually nothing about the story’s rich details, complex psychology and inter-character dynamics, and the overall sensory feast that this story presents.
One crucial component of this piece is the brother’s admiring view of his sister, who seems free and daring and adventurous and generally all the things a younger sibling looks up to. This is a story about family and particularly sibling dynamics, rendered starkly in the context of an unfamiliar place.
There is a sense of danger here. Not imminent-death danger, but the sort of exciting danger of the unfamiliar, the exotic. That’s where this piece really shines: the details of shark fins, of rickety planks and lapping waves, transport the reader very effectively. I’ve never been to this place–not even close–but the author’s skillful use of metaphor and language give me as vivid a sense of place and experience as I can possibly get without visiting this scene myself. The author takes us out of the “resort” (which is referenced in the story, importantly), takes us away from the carefully curated tourist experience to an actual, authentic series of events where the outcome is not prearranged, unmediated by western expectations or resort packaging.