Mermaids may be the next supernatural being of choice for fantasy readers, following the long reign of vampires and werewolves. Almost two dozen major novels about mermaids were published in 2012, mostly YA romances packed with undersea adventure.
Mark Siegel's haunting Sailor Twain , however, is the misfit of this literary tidal wave (see what we did there?). A brooding graphic novel set in the late 19th Century, Sailor Twain tells the story of a steamboat captain, his boss, and the mermaid with whom they are both entranced. Sensual and dark, this book is for all you Gothic literature Masterminds out there.
The story is illustrated entirely with charcoal shading, and the effect is entrancing. The world Siegel creates is dark and foggy; his characters are often pulling their coats around them against the cold. The book is set on the "Lorelei," a Hudson River steamboat captained by Elijah Twain and owned by Monsieur Lafayette, a shameless flirt.
Mysterious events occur often on the boat's rounds. While Lafayette speculates about their meaning, Twain remains fixated on his work and his yearning for his landlocked wife Pearl. That is, until he rescues a wounded mermaid from the dark waters of the Hudson. Nothing like adopting a river-woman to get a man interested in the supernatural!
Though there is a loose plot — complete with a twist — Sailor Twain is basically a sprawling rumination on obsession. As such, the pacing is off: sometimes, it's a pageturner and sometimes it lags, which can grate on the reader after a while. The book's obtuse storytelling style is evident even in the first two chapters, which Siegal has made available online here for any readers interested in a testdrive.
Regardless of its slower scenes, Sailor Twain is worth reading through to the end. There is enough thought and craft on each page to satisfy any bookworm, and the symbolism of the book stays with the reader long after the narrative element. As Siegal told USA Today, "Anyone who's lived a few years knows that mermaids are real... Obsessions, addictions, there are many kinds of mermaids singing all around us."
Now those still waters definitely run deep!
Would you read Sailor Twain?