(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie FEB 17, 2005)
"There is little else to do here besides get drunk and it seems to make what is small, us, part of something that is drowned and large, something like the bottom of the sea, something like outer space. Drinking helps us continue living in remote places because, thankfully, here there is no one to tell you just how swallowed up we are."
"'I'm going to be a different kind of mermaid,' I tell King Neptune. He turns and looks at me. His eyes are just as pale as mine. 'You don't get a choice,' he says. 'There's only one kind of mermaid,' he says and then, 'Don't forget that the ocean is full of everything except mercy.'"
The Seas' narrator is nineteen, a waif-like girl who, unable to move from adolescence to womanhood, believes herself to be mermaid. When she was eight years-old, her father walked into the sea, never to be seen again. She and her mother often sit on the beach, near the ocean's edge where his footprints were last seen, watching - waiting for him to return. Wet footprints appear to her in the oddest places, convincing her that he has come back. He had told her that she was a mermaid - a gift from the sea. She believes him after all these years. She reasons that if her father is alive, then he must be a creature of the sea and that she, his daughter, must be the same. And like the mermaids in Hans Christian Andersen's tale, and Friedrich de La Motte Fouque's "Undine," our lost young protagonist loves a man and longs for him to return her intense affections. Unlike the fairy tales, however, one assumes she is not dependent on this man's love to gain a mortal soul.
Jude, the man in question, is older, nearly twice her age. He returned from the Iraq War "a year and a half after the president declared the war was over." He had already served three years and seven months in the Army, but decided to stay at the front a bit longer. He needed the money. The bleak, Northeastern seaside town where they live has nothing to offer him, nor anyone else really. He doesn't own a fishing boat, which is the only way to make money in the tiny hamlet. Our mermaid is certain that Jude, now a hard drinking, womanizing sailor, is her prince. Jude, however, has problems of his own. Never having fully recovered from the traumas of combat - he was finally evacuated for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He believes the young woman is forbidden to him. She is like a critical war secret he has been prohibited to reveal. "Like if I say your name or if I touch you, I'd get court-martialed, found guilty, and executed."
The narrative is sparse and somewhat random in nature, according to the young woman's apparent whims, and is written like a personal journal with chapter titles for each entry. It is also a literary work, hauntingly beautiful with lyrical, almost ethereal prose and filled with ocean imagery. An atmosphere of melancholy permeates, with mystical, fantastical elements. The angst of the protagonist, and her wounded warrior's sorrow, wrench the heart. There is dark humor here too. "All mermaids do is swim around and kill sailors. Not a great job."
The characters are brilliantly portrayed, including the grandfather who is obsessed with typesetting a dictionary. He gives his granddaughter words and definitions to ponder throughout, and the story is filled with typographical games. He discovers a word in a Russian English dictionary, "razbliuto." He says there is no English equivalent. "The word means, 'the feelings one retains for someone he once loved,'" he explains, and challenges his listeners to come up with an English one-word meaning. When everyone fails to find a corresponding definition, he continues, "It's like the little house love moved out of - maybe a hermit crab moves in and carries the house across the floor of a tidal pool. The lover sees the old love moving and it looks like it's alive again." This is a poignant novel, sometimes painful. Don't let that put you off. The Seas mesmerizes. It is a fabulous tale and is so worth the read. I loved it!
Samantha Hunt has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has been published in the anthology Trampoline, McSweeney's, Colorado Review, Jubilat, The Literary Review, The Iowa Review, Western Humanities Review, NewMediaPoets.com, and has appeared on NPR's "This American Life."
- Amazon readers rating: from 12 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Seas at author's site
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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- Official website for Samantha Hunt
- SF Gate review of The Seas
- SanDiego.com review of The Seas
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Invention of Everything Else
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About the Author:
Samantha Hunt is a writer and artist. Her stories and poems have appeared in McSweeney's, Cabinet, Jubilat, Seed Magazine, The Iowa Review and This American Life. Her play, The Difference Engine, a story about the life of Charles Babbage, was produced last year. Hunt's artwork can be found at the New York Public Library. She teaches writing and bookmaking at Pratt Institute and is the fiction editor of Crowd magazine. The Village Voice Literary Supplement voted The Seas one of the top 27 books of 2004.
She lives in New York City.