The Sea Beast Takes a Lover: Stories
by Michael Andreasen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Holy cats, did I love this. As a big fan of Donald Barthelme, this collection reminded me a lot of his stories, though of course this one reads as more modern. Andreasen creates bizarro worlds and story lines to illustrate all too familiar themes of isolation, the desire for connection, and that old show stopper, the continuing misery of being alive. That said, these stories--for the most part--are anything but somber, and several of them are howlingly funny. It is, in part, the author's perfect ear for language that makes this work. He boomerangs from scholarly, arcane language to the most casual slang and back again, and he plays fast and loose with time as well, all to glorious effect.
The title story is the best, in my view. We meet a crew of salty sailors whose ship is locked in the embrace of a love-struck kraken whose misguided desires are dragging the ship down by degrees. The story is up to its gunwales in seagoing parlance, but just when the reader gets into that Mutiny On The Bounty vibe, sailors start appearing wearing sunglasses and ear buds and playing video games to pass the time as the titular Sea-Beast embraces their vessel. So, who's in charge here? The cannibalistic Admiral, that's who. I laughed so hard at this story that I had to stop and gather myself before finishing. Arr!
Here's a quick note on the other ten stories:
Our Fathers At Sea--a meditation on failure of family connection, in which the elderly are sent to the bottom of the ocean in pressure-resistant capsules launched from a carnival-like seaside park.
Bodies In Space--On a business trip, a married man referred to only as "The Man Of The Future" strays with a co-worker in the back seat of a Volvo. Just as satisfaction is at hand, both he and his paramour are abducted by aliens.
The King's Teacup At Rest--The King Of Retired Amusements buys a closed fairground and discovers the impossibility of bringing the past back to useful life. Don't eat the hot dogs.
He Is The Rainstorm and the Sandstorm, Hallelujah Hallelujah--A grade-school age girl tells the story of her ever-cheerful and nearly Holy Infant-ish baby brother, as well as the story of her mother and "aunt" who are trying to avoid the aunt's ex-husband. This story, despite its odd elements, was more serious than most, and one of my favorites.
Rockabye Rocketboy--an airborne teenage boy is admired from afar by a beautiful porn star. Sometimes we only want what we can't really have.
The Saints In The Parlor--four saints (Saint Her Own Hand On A Plate, Saint Upside Down Skull, Saint Tongue Of Flame and Saint of Dubious Or Mythical Origin) somehow find themselves materialized in someone's parlor.
Andy, Lord Of Ruin--third grader Andy, a pulling-wings-off-flies type kid, becomes dangerously unstable at an atomic level. Officials, teachers, parents and neighbors debate what to do before he explodes.
Jenny--The narrator's teenage sister is a normal girl except for not having a head. He loves and resents her at the same time, as her condition controls the lives of the whole family including him.
Rite of Baptism--parents and congregation vow to help (name) through life's shitty trials, and they are legion.
Blunderbuss--something goes wrong during a field trip to the Time Institute. This had me in tears from laughing.
One of the best short story collections I have ever read. If you can't abide the bizarro stuff, it might not be for you, but i adored it. Highly, highly recommended.
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