Books on GIF #107 — 'The Seas' by Samantha Hunt

GIF by @equalpartsstudio

Welcome to the latest edition of Books on GIF, the animated alternative to boring book reviews. This Sunday's selection is ‘The Seas’ by Samantha Hunt.

I hope you’re all enjoying this beautiful Memorial Day Weekend and that you’re finding some quiet time to read something fantastic. I spent time yesterday sitting by the lake in Prospect Park reading ‘The Autobiography of Gucci Mane’ like:

I’ll probably go back today, but before I do, I need to tell you about ‘The Seas,’ an intense and unsettling novel that I’m still trying to process. It’s hard to describe this book using words because you have to feel this story in order to understand it. But here goes. An unnamed 19-year-old female protagonist lives in a small coastal town way up north that’s full of alcoholics, and lacks hope and opportunity. She believes she is a mermaid. She is obsessed with Jude, a veteran of the first Iraq War who’s struggling with PTSD, and believes she is in love with him. She misses her father who was probably lost at sea years ago, but she thinks she sees him, or his ghost, leaving wet footprints in the shadows. She lives with her mother and grandfather who appear to be hoarders of, among other things, blocks of type. She is a victim of bullying and doesn’t seem to have many friends. She spends a lot of time in the bathtub, like:

The woman is drowning. Drowning in a toxic dead-end town that thwarts her attempts to escape. Drowning in her obsession with Jude that leads her to bad choices. Drowning in the surreal world inside her mind that might be caused by despair or an undiagnosed mental illness. And nearly drowning for real in the bathtub when she tries to return to her mermaid roots and breathe underwater. When one is drowning, there is only one direction: up. Everything else is death. This book tells us that knowing which way is up can be difficult. Our hometowns, our families, our experiences and our minds can spin us around. For some people, maybe there is no way up, like:

Hunt’s writing is beautiful and flows quickly. I love the details she weaves in, from the woman’s mother being raised on an island populated by deaf people, to her grandfather who writes backwards in typesetting fonts. She also conjures scenes that are downright disturbing. For example, there’s Jude’s description of his traumatic time in Iraq, particularly the moment when he encounters a fellow soldier nicknamed ‘the wolf-boy’ in the town where a massacre has occurred. It will stay with me for a long time, like:

BoG friend Elena tweeted at me recently that ‘The Seas’ is still haunting her ‘like a Victorian ghost.’ That’s a perfect way to put it. I highly recommend that you let this book haunt you, too.

How it begins:

The highway only goes south from here. That’s how far north we live. There aren’t many roads out of town, which explains why so few people ever leave. Things that are unfamiliar are a long way off and there is no direct route to these things. Rather it’s a street to a street to a road across a causeway to a road across a bridge to a road to another road before you reach the highway.

If you were to try to leave, people who have known you since the day you were born would recognize your car and see you leaving. They would wonder where you were going and they would wave with two fingers off the steering wheel, a wave that might seem like a stop sign or a warning to someone trying to forget this very small town. It would be much easier to stay.

The town is built on a steep and rocky coast so that the weathered houses are stacked like shingles, or like the rows of razor wire in a prison, one on top of the other up the hill. Small paths and narrow roads wind their ways between the houses so that there’s no privacy in this town. If you were to stumble home drunk one night, by morning, the entire town would know. Not that they would care. People here are accustomed to drunks. We have the highest rate of alcoholism in the country, and this fact is repeated so often I thought we should put it on the Chamber of Commerce sign at the town line that welcomes tourists. More alcoholics per capita! Enjoy your visit!

My rating:

‘The Seas’ by Samantha Hunt was published by MacAdam/Cage in 2004, and by Tin House Books in 2018. 217 pages. $19.95 at Book Culture.

In two weeks you’ll get a review of ‘The Autobiography of Gucci Mane’ by Gucci Mane. Also in the queue are ‘The Secret Life of Plants’ by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, ‘Sing, Unburied, Sing’ by Jesmyn Ward and a roundup of novellas featuring ‘McGlue’ by Ottessa Moshfegh, among others. 

In case you missed it: Books on GIF #106 featured ‘The Friend’ by Sigrid Nunez.

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Thanks for reading, and thanks especially to Donna for editing this review!

Until next time,