The depths of grief are like the sea, bottomless and ever widening. Maybe that’s why the protagonist of S.K. Perry’s startling debut novel moves to Brighton after the sudden death of her boyfriend, Sam. The ebb and flow of the waves echo the push-pull of Holly’s loss, the bizarre way that grief bends and cuts. The sea is an apt metaphor.
Told from Holly’s perspective, with numbered sections that span the first year since Sam’s death, Let Me Be Like Water reads as intimately as a diary or a love letter. Raw is the best word to describe it. It’s a book to be read in the same way you’d listen to a friend who’s grieving—patiently and with care. We meet Holly as she’s just moved from London to Brighton to escape her memories of Sam. She’s an ever-shifting shape, roiling with anger and then curling in a ball, missing Sam and then wanting to be held by someone else, hurting and wanting to break things.
In fluid, imaginative prose, Perry captures the tension and anger, the pain and guilt. Meeting Frank, a man with a flair for magic and a grandfatherly care for people, is the seminal moment in Holly’s process. He introduces her to, as she puts it, “his collection of broken people” and they keep her from falling too far, from fading away altogether, though she often wants to. The gifts of their friendships are many: cooking lessons that feed her, a piano that restores her to her music, a house to live in that’s full of vitality and laughter. Though occasionally the allusions Perry reaches for feel overwrought, she keeps from veering into overly sentimentalized territory.
Holly’s confusion and emptiness stings, and the moments when she embraces life bring hope. From beginning to end, the sea buoys her. “When you sit by the water it really does feel like things will be alright.”