I picked up Sailor Twain after a fellow Cannonballer recommended it. And while I’m glad that I read it, I did have some problems with it (problems that are almost certainly entirely personal).
Sailor Twain is a graphic novel about a man who finds a mermaid in the Hudson river (which can pretty much be surmised from its subtitle: The Mermaid in the Hudson). But this isn’t your standard beautiful and noble pop culture mermaid, of the type first popularized by Hans Christian Anderson a hundred years ago. This mermaid is equal parts wonder and terror, an old fashioned siren whose song means death (of a sort). This mermaid is a monster (albeit a relatable monster with a great backstory).
Captain Elijah Twain is our protagonist, and he lives aboard the Lorelei, a steamboat that travels up and down the Hudson. Strange happenings are afoot aboard the Lorelei after its first owner begins acting strangely and then disappears. Then his brother, Lafayette, too begins acting in a very peculiar manner — refusing to leave the ship, bedding every woman who comes in walking distance of him, and corresponding with the famous author Beaverton, whose latest bestselling book explores instances of the fantastic in their very own New York, including a chapter on mermaids. And then amidst all this, Twain finds said mermaid injured and clinging to life, and nurses her back to health. From there, Twain is drawn little by little into a world full of mystical, scary secrets, and his compassion for the mermaid quickly turns to obsession.
The rest of the story unfolds itself in a tangle of conflicted motives: the mermaid’s, Twain’s, and Lafayette’s. Unfortunately, this is where things fell apart for me. Up until the climax, the story had proved to be enjoyable and creepy, especially Siegel’s artwork, which puts its emphasis in chilling places (over-large eyes, out of focus panels, mist and fog) and with everything being in black and white, the whole thing felt a little bit less cartoony than it might have otherwise. It was kind of great. But then — and again, this might just be my issue — but I honestly had no idea what was happening for the last thirty pages or so. Siegel’s employment of dialogue and imagery were not enough for me to quite literally comprehend what was happening in the story. I read the ending four times and I still have no idea what actually happened or what I was supposed to get out of it. Even after a quick trip to Wikipedia shed some light on it, I was still unable to get any true understanding out of it. And you guys, I’m not bragging here when I say that I am damn good at reading comprehension. It is like my #1 skill. I got an 800 on my verbal SAT score back before they changed everything (for you non-US readers, 800 used to be a perfect score, but now it’s 1600). And the ending to this book made me feel stupid and helpless, and I don’t like feeling stupid and helpless.
Anyway, I’m going to suggest that people check this book out solely so you can come back here and tell me what was up with the ending, because help. I think I get it? But no. I don’t.
I thought this book was going to be about Mark Twain on a boat and now I’m really disappointed.
Well, to be fair he is mentioned in the book, but the reason for the name Twain is more literal than that. If you read it, you’ll understand what I mean.