Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 209

Sailor Twain: Or, The Mermaid In The Hudson

by Mark Siegel
Genre notes: mermaids, river boats
400 pages
ISBN: 1596436360 (Amazon)

For centuries, mermaids were known as creatures of havoc—happy to destroy the lives of sailors. Long linked to the sirens of Greek myth, the sociological purpose of their legend seemed to have been pedagogical, speaking to the danger of the seductress. Mermaids would use their allurements (both in voice and body) to draw sailors to a death of submergement. They represent the futility of the male passion in that their upper torsos (what would be visible above the waves) picture the truest and most desirable physical beauty, while the body existing below the waist offers no culmination to the male romantic expression. Doomed loves, doomed lives. And refreshingly, it is this kind of mermaid lore that Mark Siegel explores in Sailor Twain.

Sailor Twain is a triumph of collaboration. Lore, history, mood, social ethics, and romance swirl together, weaving a thing of ominous beauty. The mermaids’ contemporary myth is subverted in the book’s reclamation of the antique myth. In telling the tale of Captain Elijah Twain, Siegel skates through and about a world pitting loyalty against lust, where temptation holds court and the verdict is yet to be decided. This is a story about sex, about desire, and about how dangerous these things can be when directed without discretion. In a way, the book offers a moral as quaint as the lore with which it concerns itself—though even this moral is twisted in deliciously challenging ways as happily-ever-after careens drunkenly from comfortable expectation. Siegel raises delicious questions to challenge our presuppositions through a story illustrated and written with obvious care.

Siegel’s narrative concerns Elijah Twain, charged with the captaincy of the Hudson river steamboat Lorelei. It’s 1887 and Twain (no relation to the author, who wasn’t really named that anyway) is a man of strict personal governance, bound by his morals, his promises, and his watch. One evening, he discovers crawling onto his deck a wounded mermaid, a victim of a harpoon. Her name means South and he cares for her injuries; things both ravel and unravel from the beginning of his stewardship of her.

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