The Sea Beast Takes a Lover

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 21 Aug 2018

Member Reviews

I'm a huge fan of short story collections, and I like "bewitching and playful," so figured this would be a hit. It wasn't. I made it through three of the stories, and felt like I'd slogged through jello and was left with stained feet and nothing more to show for it. Each story was fractured and had no resolution, and I ended each feeling baffled rather than bewitched. After three, I just couldn't bring myself to read more. This collection just swung and failed to connect.
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I can’t say enough about this weird little gem of a book. An amorous sea beast, a cannibalistic captain, and alien abductees are just a few of the oddities that fill this collection. There are 11 stories  and all are vivid, humorous, and paradoxical. Andreasen has written a noteworthy debut, one absolutely worth your consideration. The title story in the collection is my favorite, but I am likely to swoon over an unexpected John Irving reference (there’s also a bear in another story), especially when said reference is The World According to Garp being read by a doomed sailor on a ship being wooed to death by a lovesick kraken. If you like your fiction strange and your stories short, pick up The Sea Beast Takes a Lover by Michael Andreasen forthwith.
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Mind-blowing, short story collection!  Michael Andreasen scores a home run.  Full review to come.  Check back soon for updates.
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With short stories it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what worked and what didn't. I really liked the juxtaposition used (ex. pirates and technology), and the weird horror feel to the whole thing, I'm not sure how other people will react. It's not badly written, and a lot of the stories are great, but some of the 'twists' sort of fall flat.
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Sorry but I couldn't get into the book at all. I tried though, I'm so sorry for my ADD brain.
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Stories set in a world just close enough you recognize it, but far enough that they involve things like alien abductions or a tradition of sending off pods of elderly people to be euthanized and sunk in an undisclosed part of the ocean. Intriguing, with an even mixture of solid reality and glimmering fiction.
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The Sea Beast Takes a Lover is a collection of slightly odd short stories which all share a similar vibe, however, not one I can just pinpoint like that. They are easy to read, quite imaginative and all of them pretty shattering by the end. I am not a huge fan of short stories (as they almost always involve incomprehensible levels of oddity), and maybe that's why I feel like I could have enjoyed this book more. But if you're a fan of short stories, you will probably like The Sea Beast Takes a Lover.

Some Of The Stories Are Brilliant
My favorite is probably the one with the sea beast - the one that gave the book its name. Yes, it's literally a sea beast who decided to mate with a ship. And its love and care is currently sinking it. The story is refreshingly witty, colorful and lively, and the ending is simply perfect. Mermaids who like to read Bronte sisters and Asimov. An amorous sea monster. A drowning library. A cannibal admiral (it even rhymes!) And all of that humor in death. The ship is almost an allegory of our current political and economical system, the world nothing more than a sinking wreck, the deck hands eating scraps, the officers still eating good food, and the captain eating... the officers. "All sailors are Christians moonlighting as witch doctors." - had the rest of the stories been as strong as this one, I would have felt much differently about this collection!

But Some Of The Other Stories...
As it is typical with short stories, they are decidedly odd - as I've already mentioned. Some of them are odder than others. And I feel like this was most of the stories in this collection. Roughly around the middle I just stopped trying and gave up wrapping my mind around some of them. And that's alright - maybe they're just not for me. Hence the 3 stars!

I thank The Penguin Group, Dutton Books for giving me a copy of the book in exchange to my honest opinion.
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This collection of short stories combines a modern tone with fabulist settings to explore human loneliness. From a son sending his father to die in some kind of submarine, to a ship in the clutches of a sea beast while mermaids sing, these stories find the mundane in the fantastic. Usually, this works for me. I love Michael Cunningham, for instance, and Kate Bernheimer. Readers of modernist fairy tales like from these authors or from Carmen Maria Machado might like this collection, though I didn't find the same depth of thought and emotional urgency in Andreasen's stories than I do in these other authors. Andreasen is a clever writer, but his prose reads modern in ways that weren't always pleasing to me. The characters could be shallow and intentionally obsessed with the mundane, and I found that annoying after a while. However, these stories are interesting and if you love reading absurdist literature, than I recommend it.

Thanks to Netgalley and Penguin Group Dutton for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

[Posted on Goodreads 02/08/2018. May appear in future Book Riot posts or on my blog]
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While overall I enjoyed this collection of short stories, I felt like they were also missing something. I think this collection falls into a classic case of trying too hard. 

The writing is decent and the imagery isn't over embellished. Each of the stories are pretty different yet seamlessly blend the fantastical with the real world but for me they're missing that thing that grabs you and doesn't let go. Which is sad because some of the premises/plots seemed really cool and original when I was reading about them (especially the titular "The Sea Beast Takes a Lover") but in actually reading them I felt let down by each one. Each one felt like Andreasen was trying too hard to be clever or witty or innovative to really let the cleverness stand for itself. 

It's not that these short stories are bad; they're just not as good as I had hoped they would be. That said, I did enjoy the book. At times it felt like taking a walk on the darker edge of magical realism. I just wished I could say I liked the book more than I do. I think it would be an easy book to recommend, however, given the readability and the originality.
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Wacky and wonderful stories in this debut collection. The title story is probably my favorite. The others introduce an exploding boy; a group of Saints finding their way together... or separately?; a grade school field trip to the Time Travel Institute. I am reminded of the cleverness of Jim Shepard, the creativity of Kevin Brockmeier, the perspective of Ray Vukcevich, the whimsy of Helen Oyeyemi... and yet Andreasen stands out as a unique voice.
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I received a free e-ARC through First to Read and NetGalley from the publishers at Penguin Random House/Dutton. I was really excited to read this, since Ray Bradbury and Karen Russell have fueled my love for weird short stories. The downside is that the competition is extremely steep.

The Sea Beast Takes A Lover is a collection of short stories that are part science fiction, part literary fiction, and part something else entirely. In Andreasen’s worlds, a giant squid anchors a ship for weeks, desperate to be loved, a girl survives into adulthood without a head, and older generations are crated at the bottom of the sea.

I seem to be in the minority of readers who didn’t enjoy this collection at all. I struggled through it, and not one of the stories really stood out to me. I’m having trouble pinpointing exactly what didn’t work for me overall, but it seems to be more specific failures in each story. The most common one is that many of them lack any sort of plot or closure. “The Sea Beast Takes a Lover”, “Jenny”, and “Andy, Lord of Ruin” are good examples of this. There are jarring (in a good way) juxtapositions: pirates with cell phones and archaic settings with modern slang. They provide interesting snapshots of things–a ship rendered immovable by a sea monster’s affection, a girl without a head, a boy who goes nuclear–but that’s all. They don’t go anywhere. Nothing happens. Make of it what you will.

Not that things necessarily have to happen for a book to be good. A story can explore characters or ideas equally well, but there’s no strong sense of that here either. The characters are, by and large, the kind of self-serving and at times outright despicable cutouts that I’m weary of in adult fiction; it’s no wonder so many adults read YA, which is at least full of people I’d want to know. The narrator in “Our Fathers at Sea” blames his father for his illness, the little girl in “He Is the Rainstorm and the Sandstorm, Hallelujah, Hallelujah” actively thinks about killing a baby, and the brother in “Jenny” resents his headless sister for her helplessness. There’s little to no empathy or human connection to be found anywhere, and they’re not even horrible in interesting ways.

The first story, “Our Fathers at Sea”, is probably the strongest narratively and emotionally. It at least has a clear beginning, middle, and end, and there’s no small amount of empathy in it–although that empathy comes strictly from the reader and not from the narrator. In part, it seems like a criticism of euthanasia, but I don’t think the story comes down hard on either side of the argument. If there is a message, I think it’s something to do with paying attention to issues like this and not looking away because they make us sad or uncomfortable. The rest of the collection is much less clear. I’m just not sure what I’m supposed to make of it, or of any of the situations presented here. If there’s a moral or a philosophy, it’s well beyond me.

It’s mostly downhill from there, with the religiously inclined stories hitting the bottom of the barrel. “The Saints in the Parlor” reminds me of Chuck Palahniuk without the edginess or the insight that occasionally makes Chuck Palahniuk worth paying attention to. “Bodies in Space” is the kind of penis-centric literary fiction that I’d hoped we were moving away from and seems mostly an excuse to describe what boobs look like in zero gravity. (Honestly, if you need more than one paragraph to talk about boobs, I think you should reconsider what genre you’re writing in. Women do it and it’s romance, but if men do it, it’s called literary fiction.) The narrator spends most of the story bemoaning the fact that his wife left him after he cheated on her (and then, inconveniently, was abducted by aliens). He never once pauses to consider what that must have been like for her, and he’s equally disdainful of his mistress. 

The writing is a little preoccupied with its own cleverness, as if Andreasen had a thesaurus open for each story and picked the most archaic words he could find. I don’t think it’s intentionally pretentious, just an awkward cross between science fiction and literary fiction that ultimately doesn’t do either very well. Absent plot, character, philosophy, or human connection, the stories seem to rely solely on their ability to entertain–assuming readers are entertained by the same kinds of things Andreasen is. It’s not a bad thing for a story collection to do, but it’s a problem if you don’t find a single one of them enjoyable. There’s nothing else to save it.

I review regularly at brightbeautifulthings.tumblr.com.
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From the instant I saw the cover, I knew I just HAD to read this book. It had already been on my TBR when I stumbled across it on Netgalley and slammed the request button reflexively. I love bizarro short stories, I love cephalopods, and I love anything with an octopus on the cover.

Unfortunately, these stories just didn't mesh well with me. It wasn't a bad read, it just wasn't anything over-the-top outstanding. If you're interested, I'd say give it a shot regardless. Michael Andreasen is a talented writer and I'm intrigued to see what else he comes out with!
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Gorgeous

This is a wildly entertaining collection, open to enjoyment in whatever fashion suits you.

Do you like to work for your metaphors? Is the local custom of sinking old men into the ocean in sealed containers, and the fanfare that accompanies the event, a metaphor for putting dad in an assisted living facility? Is alien abduction a stand in for a regrettable extra-marital affair? Does an amorous sea beast grasping and slowly sinking a sailing ship really represent an overly obsessive and tiresome lover? Is Andy really ready to explode, or is he going through puberty? Is a headless girl the ultimate special needs child? Can time travelers be more funnymen than Feynman? Darned if I know, but feel free to discuss the matter amongst yourselves.

Or, do you like witty authors who subvert narrative form and toy with story telling conventions? Post-postmodern, with maybe an extra post in there. In each tale we play mix and match with tone, mood, and point of view. Word choices and dialogue drift from formal to archaic to colloquial in order to keep the reader off balance and tease out the artifice and craft behind the writing. It is anarchic and anachronistic, (in one story, literally). Are we being mocked as readers; is the author mocking other authors; is the author confessing his own doubts about his own choices? I don't know. I also don't care because it's all fun and it's all undergirded by a generous sense of humor. I'm glad Andreasen isn't an angry young man, because his angry stories would probably be singularly unnerving.

Putting that aside, at the very minimum this is a rich buffet for the lover of elegant one-liners, deadpan throwaway observations, and the bracing or arresting description. His digressions and parentheticals, alone, make the book worthwhile. Andreasen seems to have mastered the tiny telling detail or comment or bit of business that brings everything in a story into sharp relief. If you are a highliter/underliner type, well, you're going to end up with a very marked up book.

I like playful. I like elegant. I like an occasional emotional ambush. I like a daring and inventive craftsmen. I liked and admired this book. 

(Please note that I received a free advance ecopy of this book without a review requirement, or any influence regarding review content should I choose to post a review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.)
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