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Sailor Twain, or The Mermaid in the Hudson, by Mark Siegel

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

This is a graphic novel with a very distinctive style. The art is all charcoal drawings, not at all period (the setting is 1887) but evocative of period, and when I saw the stag rising up from the Hudson River, I went, “Oooooh,” and wanted to fall in love.

I wish the stag in the Hudson had been, y’know, a great deal more important. Or that the references to Twain and Lafayette had gone somewhere interesting. Or that the two little boys had, or the black boiler workers or…or…something. This was a book of loose ends and missed opportunities. If you’re the sort of person who finds that graphic novels usually have entirely enough story to be satisfying, possibly you won’t feel that way, but if you often feel that there isn’t quite enough there in the best of times, then maybe give this one a miss.

Also…I have been trying to think how to say this tactfully. Some people are in a place personally where “protag is a jerk to disabled spouse” is a perfectly fine narrative component for them and doesn’t really interfere with story. “Oh, jerk to disabled spouse, okay, cool,” they might say, I guess? I don’t really know. I am not those people. I am not in that place. And this is a book with that narrative device, and it is not handled in a self-aware enough way that makes me think, “Well, at least there was the part where….” There is not that part. No. It’s just kind of jerkish. And I wonder if I’m supposed to be using the potential spaces in the narrative to make excuses for the protag? But the other narrative devices (the “cure” for mermaid “affliction” is…what, really? really?) did not really incline me to be in an excuse-making mood.

The acknowledgments thank Pete Seeger and the Clearwater gang, so that’s kind of awesome.

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