I used to consistently love books that kept me off balance, not quite sure what was real. That’s not so much the case lately. Just tell me a story. Still, I keep trying, hoping some weird story will capture my imagination. (And sometimes there’s a book like The Other Black Girl that mixes weirdness and straightforwardness in a way that totally works.)
I also keep trying with Samantha Hunt, whose books always sound great but never quite work as well for me as I’d like.
I’m also trying (largely in vain) to read books that have been on my shelves for years.
So that brings me to The Seas, a 2004 novel about a 19-year-old woman who lives by the sea and believes she is a mermaid. The story is told from this unnamed woman’s point of view, so we’re placed inside that reality, but we’re also able to see how her belief in her aquatic nature is wrapped up in grief over her father’s disappearance. So, too, is her attraction to Jude, an older man who she first saw emerging from the sea.
I can’t quite put my finger on why this didn’t work for me. I liked the ambiguity of the premise and how the question of her mermaidness played out at various points in the story. And I liked the ending a lot, as it showed her coming to some kind of terms with her situation, whatever it is. But the short book is busy with other stuff that didn’t work for me.
For example, I could understand her attraction to Jude, given his association in her mind with the sea, but a lot of the time it was difficult to grasp what their relationship was. This is a downside of that first-person perspective. The narrator’s grasp on reality is (probably?) tenuous, so readers must rely on context clues to understand what’s really happening. When it came to the mermaid question, I liked that I wasn’t sure, but I wanted the rest to feel more grounded than it was.
There were some cool set pieces, like the house that used to be an apartment building, and the trays of her grandfather’s typesetting letters. But they amounted to little more than set pieces, adding to the weirdness but not so much to the narrative. If it weren’t so short, I might have given up on it.
It’s possible that if I’d read this book years ago, when I enjoyed weird atmosphere for its own sake, I might have loved it. But it’s not quite right for me right now. Will I keep trying weird books like this? Probably. I want them to work, and they won’t if I don’t try.