Monday, April 9, 2018

The Sea Beast Takes a Lover

Title:  The Sea Beast Takes a Lover
Author:  Michael Andreasen
Publication Information:  Dutton. 2018. 240 pages.
ISBN:  1101986611 / 978-1101986615

Book Source:   I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The night before we load you into the crate and watch as the helicopter carries you off to the undisclosed location to drop you into the Atlantic Ocean, we eat dinner as a family."

Favorite Quote:  "Why is time travel important? The answer seems simple enough to the time travelers:  Time travel is important because it is the most objective way to study the unfolding of past events as they actually happened, to cut out history's middleman, with his incomplete record and his limited and hopelessly biased perspective, and go straight to the source - history in its rawest, purest form."

The sea beast in this book is an actual sea creature. The lover is a ship that the sea beast holds firm in its grasp. Choosing a book with such a title, I expect the unusual. This collection of stories certainly delivers. A society that ships off the elderly as if on an adventure to a new life. A girl without a head cared for by her younger sibling. An alien abduction. A saint who carries her completely severed but completely preserved hand on a plate. A boy who becomes a ticking time bomb. And more.

Aspects of some stories are truly disturbing. Reader beware. Different stories center on disturbing ideas - euthanasia of the elderly, sexual assault, infidelity, pornography, abuse, and others. This is by no stretch of the imagination a comfortable book to read. In fact, it is memorable for its discomfort and its completely surreal feel. Another warning - the stories don't really offer a judgment or closure or ending to some of these issues. The stories flow open-ended, more of a moment in time rather than a plot. The content of the stories in this collection ranges from the bizarre to the more bizarre.

Looking below the surface of the stories though, common themes do emerge. Each story seems to find its anchor in a character's need to be loved. Even the sea beast is looking for love. It destroys others in that path, but the need is for love. In these completely unrealistic, science-fiction like stories, the author manages to capture the very human emotion in both its intensity and occasionally its destructive path. It is this intensity that keeps me reading.

Like all collections, the individual stories can be individually reviewed. My reaction to each story depends on the balance between the bizarre and sometimes disturbing content and the very real and sometimes touching human emotions. In that respect, my favorite is the first one which is about the role of the elderly and this society's approach to dealing with the end of life.

My reaction also depends on the visual image the story conjures, and how disturbing that image is. The cover of the book is of course the sea beast; it is more a flight of imagination than a disturbing reality. The image I wish I could unsee is the girl without a head and the disturbing events of that story; that leaves images of the very real abuse and assault against a disabled person that could be and has been found in the news headlines.

All of this is a testament to the writing. The book contains no images except for the cover image. The writing, however, leaves a very visual impact. The fact that the books paints these pictures within the few pages of a short story is even more impressive for each story is completely different in its imagery. This is Michael Andreasen's first book. For this aspect of his writing, I may try whatever he writes next.

At the end, I am not entirely sure how I feel about this book. However, I will remember it for its weirdness.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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