Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Seas by Samantha Hunt

The Seas The Seas: A Novel

A new discovery to me today thanks to a bargain book listing is The Seas by Samantha Hunt. The ebook is temporarily marked down to $2.99 while the paperback is $12.03 discounted at Amazon. The book was originally released in 2004 but somehow I have missed it until today. It draws inspiration from Undine and the Little Mermaid so it certainly deserves a mention on SurLaLune.

Book description from the publisher:

Ever since her father walked into the ocean eleven years ago, a young woman waits for him to return. Life in her coastal town is decidedly bleak. Her mother spends her time quietly monitoring the ocean for her missing husband. Her grandfather passes the days typesetting dictionaries that will never be printed.

Rather than suffer the contortions of becoming a woman and accepting her father's apparent suicide, the narrator convinces herself she is a mermaid and escapes her dreary, northern town life via a fantastic myth.

When not chamber-maiding at decrepit motels or dreaming of becoming a scientist, she dedicates her time to falling obsessively in love with Jude, a drinker and a sailor twice her age who bears more than a passing similarity to her father. She knows Jude has a troubling secret that will, when revealed, help to fulfill the narrator's peculiar sense of her identity.

Part modern Gothic, part coming-of-age story, The Seas explores the very real possibilities in the unreal, straddling the horizons between the ocean and the land, literature and science, wishing and reality.

Here are some journal reviews, too:

From Publishers Weekly

In this retelling of "The Little Mermaid," Hunt traps readers in an undertow of tragedy gripping a bleak Northern fishing town. A young woman meets Jude, a sailor whose experiences in Iraq have rendered him watery and insubstantial. Jude becomes both love interest and paternal figure for the girl, whose own father disappeared at sea years before. Convinced she is a mermaid, she believes her love dooms the mortal Jude, but she longs to take him into the ocean with her. The sea's presence is constantly felt in the bleak, isolated town. "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...." Atmospherically, the book resembles Annie Proulx's The Shipping News, but in this story, chances for redemption are rare, and the line between reality and fairy tale is blurred. The girl's grandfather, a typesetter, fills her head with words and definitions, but despite determining to observe everything as a scientific experiment, she cannot find a way to define the wet footprints she finds in odd places, the strange things she sees on the beach and her drowning love for Jude. While Hunt occasionally hammers her themes too hard—in one instance even listing them for us—this book devastates with its lonely, cold imagery.


From Booklist

Hunt's fevered, reality-bending first novel is clearly inspired by the 1811 German novel Undine, about a female water spirit who falls in love with a mortal knight. When he betrays her, she kills him with a kiss. In Hunt's version, Undine is the nameless 19-year-old narrator who is in love with a 33-year-old fisherman, Jude, a former soldier (knight) who has returned to their small town in the far north unable--or unwilling--to speak about his experiences in the military. To extend the Undine analogy, the girl's father--before vanishing into the ocean 11 years earlier--has told her that she is a mermaid, "from the sea," a sentiment that obsesses the girl. Is she? And if so, will she kill her knight with a kiss? Some readers, overburdened by obscure symbols and narrative ambiguity, won't care. Others, however, will enjoy this fusion of fiction and folklore that is illuminated by flashes of quite fine writing. Michael Cart

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