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Literature / Beachwalker

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"My mother told me a story once. A story about a wave that washed up all the starfish and left them dying on the shore. And she told me about the Beachwalker, the only person who thought the starfish were worth saving, even if he couldn't save them all.

"But she never told me what the Beachwalker would do if one of those starfish was a shark."

When the Beachwalker found the dying POW, she thought he was just another starfish to be thrown into the sea. A dangerous killer who needed her help. And to be needed was the only way she knew how to live.

But in her struggle to keep him alive in a town rocked by earthquakes and brutalized by war, amidst all her determination to hide him from his enemies and to hold starvation at bay, she encountered an obstacle she couldn't have foreseen. A resilient mind to equal her own, and the will of a starfish who may not want to be saved.

Set amid the dusty remains of a devastated village, Beachwalker is a haunting journey into the heart of a person whose identity has become her cage, and whose reason for living puts her very survival at risk.

From the official product page

A novella just over 30,000 words long, Beachwalker follows the struggles of a cast of nameless characters as they work to survive in a war-torn and earthquake-rattled country. Deliberately ambiguous and surreal, the novella focuses mostly on the inner struggles of the protagonist as she fights for her patient's life, though external, physical danger is never far away.

"Beachwalker" is Stephanie O'Brien's first published work, having been made available on Amazon's Kindle in 2012.

Beachwalker contains examples of:

  • Badass in Distress: The Sea Monster/Starfish starts the book tied to a chair, half-starved, horribly injured, and with a freshly killed opponent at his feet. He only gets more distressed from there.
  • Batman in My Basement: The central premise of the story.
  • Beneath the Mask: The Beachwalker has a slightly softer core than she thought.
  • Comforting Comforter: Since There Is Only One Bed, the Beachwalker decides to sleep on the floor so her bedridden patient won't have to. This works until it gets too cold and he decides that she should have the blanket. And he won't take no for an answer. They work it out.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: The Beachwalker, while generally gentle with those around her, is very careful to keep them at arms' length. She does not need anyone to give her emotional support, to be there for her, or to comfort her in any way. Until she gets shot and finds out she does.
  • Downer Ending: The Beachwalker and her Starfish both die.
  • Good Samaritan: Basically the Beachwalker's reason to live, and the primary source of her identity. The self-given title of "Beachwalker" refers to the star of a story in which a man finds a beach full of stranded starfish and starts throwing them into the sea.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: The soldiers treated Sea monster/Starfish horribly, but they also help the Beachwalker and the Shopkeeper to set their shop back in order after the earthquake, and their medic is shown to have objected to their harsh interrogation methods. On the rebels' side, the Starfish himself does his best to look out for the Beachwalker despite his wounded state, and after he dies, one of his comrades temporarily reconciles with the aforementioned medic to help bury him. All in all, the story avoids lionizing or demonizing either side of the conflict.
  • Heroic BSoD: The Starfish's death, combined with her own bullet wound and resulting illness, leave the Beachwalker barely functional by the end of the book.
  • Heroic Fatigue: The Beachwalker's tendency to give unreservedly and refuse to receive anything in return begins to catch up with her partway through the book, especially after she's shot.
  • My Greatest Failure: At some point in the backstory, the Beachwalker's first patient, her mother, died despite her best efforts, and she's determined not to let it happen again.
  • Nameless Narrative: All of the characters are referred to by their roles or their relationship to the protagonist. "My mother", "The shopkeeper", "The sea monster", "My starfish", etc. Several of these titles refer to her favorite childhood story.
  • Not So Stoic: After she gets shot, the Beachwalker's stoicism starts to fray badly.
  • Promotion to Parent: Part of the reason why the Beachwalker is so driven to take care of those who have no one else is because her father abandoned her at a young age, leaving her to take care of everything while her mother drank herself into oblivion.
  • Samaritan Syndrome: The Beachwalker’s modus operandi.
  • The Speechless: Sea Monster/Starfish turns out to be completely mute.
  • Together in Death: The Beachwalker and her Starfish.
  • Urban Warfare: The Beachwalker has to dodge this several times. And then fails to dodge it once.