Half of the reason that I read The Seasis that I’d already fallen in love with Maggie Nelson who wrote the forward. The other reason was my dear friend Mary Jo recommended it in an interview she did. Since I was already involved in a literary triangle with Mary Jo and Maggie Nelson, it seemed like the logical next step to include Samantha Hunt.
You will notice I haven’t made any pithy book crush graphics based on quotes from The Seas. It’s not because there weren’t passages worth quoting, or that I ran out of imagination for visual backgrounds. In fact, I have the urge right now to sit you down and force you to listen to long passages of The Seas. Hell, I’ve been nursing a fantasy of just hitting record on my iphone some sleepless night and reading you the whole thing. I haven’t for a few reasons: 1) I’ve been sleeping a lot, 2) I would be embarrassed if I mispronounced words, 3) I think it’s illegal.
I felt off-center as I read The Seas, partially from the ambiguity. Is it a fairy tale? Is the narrator sane? Is she a mermaid? Well, yes and no. Does the story descend into magic or madness? Perhaps most disconcerting was to find myself in this story, peering back out at me from between the lines. I’m not alone in this feeling, by the way, just look through the reviews and you’ll find more than one that sounds like this: “This book comes closer to my own pain than any other book I’ve read. I don’t know how to talk about it. I feel a little shaken.”
“I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”
― Anais Nin
I wouldn’t say this book speaks my pain, or that I even want to compare my pain level with The Seas. The similarities between me and the narrator of The Seas are few, but still enough to surface memories I presumed drowned. I too have my share of alcoholics in my family tree. I too carry drowning metaphors in my core. And as a young woman I too fell for older and wildly inappropriate men, the first of which was even associated with water.
I was old enough to notice that I had hair on my legs but not old enough to gain my Mother’s permission to shave. I had a crush on my swimming teacher. By crush I mean I felt a crushing pounding in my chest that rose slowly towards my face whenever I was near him. His name was Brian, or Bay, or Cody… something that sounded at home on a yacht. It was a reality of these suburbs that if his Dad didn’t own a boat he had friends who did.
Mostly I just remember this moment of contact when I accidentally swam into him. I had no idea stomachs could be so hard; it wasn’t like running into a wall, more like a warm post. I was shocked to find myself off course, and yet exactly where I wanted to be. I knew no better magic. Then, as he was lifting me out of the way, “hey kid, you haveto open your eyes.” Words to live by.
“You are so close. You are the only warm thing to me. So warm, I am melting.”
― Samantha Hunt,The Seas
I went home and examined my own soft white belly, I wondered if he was thinking of me — surely our skin touching like that must have sparked something in him. I wondered if I was too fleshy.
Then there was a darker day, the sky was gray, the water was gray, we were all cold and if not gray a little blue around the edges. Everyone showed up for class despite the weather because this was testing day. What’s-his-name announced we were to swim to the far buoy — which I thought was insane even on a calm day. I assumed I would probably die, or at least pass out trying, but I resolved to make an effort anyway.
I remember the taste of the water in my nose, I remember my fearfully tight chest, I remember the gulping noises I made once I remembered to breathe, I remember my eyes burning as I squinted through the waves. I remember the hard plastic buoy on my hand.
I would like to say I returned to shore victorious but the truth is that I wasn’t exactly brave, I was just less terrified of drowning than I was of embarrassing myself.