#FridayReads: The Sea Beast Takes a Lover

cover for The Sea Beast Takes a Lover

Today I’ve a got a book review of Michael Andreasen’s The Sea Beast Takes a Lover up at the Ploughshares blog! I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this delightfully weird short story collection, which comes out this Tuesday (but I wasn’t paid or given anything else by the author or publisher to write this review). Check it out!

The Sea Beast Takes a Lover is the debut short story collection from Michael Andreasen. Through a mix of absurdism, hyperbole, science fiction, history, and fantasy, the author draws a map of washed-up American dreams and fears. His stories chart the plains of abandonment, the futility of love, and vague hopes that never solidify. From the titular lonely sea monster to the King of Retired Amusements to time-traveling third graders, Andreasen’s characters explore this map of disappointment and hardship, learning again and again what we already know but are too afraid to speak aloud: Everything comes to an end. Everything.

Keep reading at Ploughshares!

#FridayReads: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

cover for Annihilation, showing an alien-looking flowerWhen Annihilation came out in 2014, the cover caught my eye. It’s pretty and creepy! The trailer for the movie (starring Natalie Portman) ran before The Last Jedi, so I thought what the hell and put the audiobook on hold at the library.

The book is short (only six hours long), but I’m not sure that’s an asset in this case. I didn’t hate Annihilation, but I certainly didn’t love it, either.

The concept is interesting enough. A small team of female scientists is heading into Area X to do research on a supposed “environmental disaster.” Of course weird shit happens almost immediately and the expedition falls apart within days of arriving in Area X. Personally, I’d have preferred a little more buildup and actual discovery before things fall apart.

For most of the novel, I did want to know what was going to happen next, but I never felt satisfied with the answers–when answers were provided at all. Normally I love ambiguity in literature, but this time I was frustrated. The ambiguity didn’t feel like mystery to me. It felt more like the author was purposefully hiding things to get me to keep reading. That gets on my nerves, but I guess it worked, because I kept reading.

The point of view character (who is unnamed and referred to only as “The Biologist”) is a scientist, and yet does almost no science during the expedition. She relies on what she sees and feels to draw her conclusions, which is very un-scientist-like.

(But, you could argue that the weird, apparently sentient fungi in Area X make science hard, if not impossible, and you might be right, so that’s not a total deal breaker.)

The writing itself is functional and leans to the sparse side, but VanderMeer has a tendency to overuse certain words. I think “brackish” appeared 20 times in the first hour (that’s an exaggeration, but it was a lot!).

This is part one in a trilogy, so it’s possible some of my frustrations will be addressed in future volumes. And ultimately, the concept is probably strong enough to carry most people through the trilogy. Despite my lukewarm reaction to the book as a whole, I’ve already put the second volume on hold, because I really do want to know what happens.

#FridayReads: The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

cover for The Female of the SpeciesI don’t read a ton of YA, but for whatever reason I found myself craving a good young adult novel at the beginning of the year. I’d seen all the buzz for The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis, so I checked it out from my local library. Boy, what a ride.

This book tackles the difficult subjects of sexual violence and justice. Alex, the central character, seeks justice for her sister, who was kidnapped, tortured, raped and ultimately murdered and dismembered. Lacking enough evidence for a conviction, Anna’s killer goes free. So Alex digs in deep to the dark parts of herself and takes matters into her own hands.

Alex is prepared to spend the rest of her life in isolation, hiding from society. But then she makes friends, and then she falls in love. Alex begins to think she can be normal, maybe, when a group of junkies tries to rape her friend. Soon it becomes clear that she cannot keep the violence within her silent, not with sexual predators targeting the people she cares about.

The Female of the Species is a sort of tragic superhero novel, one where the hero treads the line between serving justice and taking revenge, one where there can’t be any happy endings.

The ending is certainly not happy, but it is satisfying. McGinnis doesn’t treat her characters or subject matter like a black and white canvas where right and wrong are clearly delineated. Her characters, and not just Alex, cross lines. They transgress. They do stupid teenage stuff and have to pay the consequences. But what McGinnis does make clear, again and again, is that no matter how stupid or out of line someone is, they do not deserve to be raped. They do not deserve to be assaulted.

Alex’s greatest strength is that she understands this simple fact. She sticks up for her friends, but she also sticks up for the girl trying to steal her boyfriend. In a way, Alex sacrifices her own humanity so that the other girls in her hometown don’t have to live in a world haunted by violation and fear.

The Female of the Species isn’t an easy book to read, in a lot of ways, but it’s an important one. You won’t regret picking it up.