Sailor Twain, or: The Mermaid in the Hudson
by Mark Siegal (First Second Press, 2012)

Sailor Twain is another "reclamation of an antique myth" story that involves mermaids, steamboat captains, ghosts and romance in a twisty, turny storyline about two men and their meeting with a creature straight from an ancient Greek tale.

Moody, mysterious and gothic, this rather unique story is engaging -- for the first two-thirds, anyway. It's well matched by the charcoal-style art. The soft gray tones create the impression of being on a paddleship driven by coal, wrapped in the mist flowing off the river, sailing directly into uncertainty and intrigue. This is a great set-up for the novel's themes of obsession and redemption in a mash-up of folklore and mythology.

Captain Elijah Twain is walking the deck of his Hudson-bound steamship one night when he encounters a being right out of classical myth: a wounded mermaid, whom he saves, hiding her from the crew while she recovers. Twain, a lonely man who loves to write in secret, is ferrying passengers up and down the river while his sick wife is receiving experimental medical treatments in an attempt to walk once more. His self-sacrifice and laboring over secret passions puts him at odds with a hedonistic passenger by the name of Lafayette, who seems bent on conquering everything female within reach. But Lafayette is harboring a secret of his own, a dark one that is revealed one layer at a time, against the backdrop of Twain nursing the mermaid back to health even as he is further ensnared in her wiles.

The magical realism serves the folklore aspect well, and the art is truly beautiful in places, but therein lays the problem: it becomes, after a while, almost too pretty and therefore a bit distracting. Everything it had going for it -- romance, horror, mystery and gothic suspense -- ends up working against it. By taking on too many genres and perhaps too many themes at once, Sailor Twain is never really allowed to settle into one specific groove, which is probably why it feels so undeveloped and uneven. The difficulty in investing in the characters and the lack of clarity about some plot elements might make even the gorgeous drawings easy to overlook.

If you love myths and you are attracted to enchanting stories that lean toward conceptual, then you might get into it for the sake of hanging out with a nice little gothic tale, but it doesn't amount to much more than a pleasant distraction.

review by
Mary Harvey

13 September 2014

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new