The Sea Beast Takes a Lover by Michael Andreasen

The Sea Beast Takes a Lover

Michael Andreasen

With a captivating new voice from an incredible author, The Sea Beast Takes a Lover uses the supernatural and extraordinary to expose us at our most human.

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An astonishing fiction debut from a UC Irvine MFA graduate and recent contributor to The New Yorker.

Bewitching and playful, with its feet only slightly tethered to the world we know, The Sea Beast Takes a Lover explores hope, love, and loss across a series of surreal landscapes and wild metamorphoses. Just because Jenny was born without a head doesn't mean she isn't still annoying to her older brother, and just because the Man of the Future's carefully planned extramarital affair ends in alien abduction and network fame doesn't mean he can't still pine for his absent wife. Romping through the fantastic with big-hearted ease, these stories cut to the core of what it means to navigate family, faith, and longing, whether in the form of a lovesick kraken slowly dragging a ship of sailors into the sea, a small town euthanizing its grandfathers in a time-honored ritual, or a third-grade field trip learning that time travel is even more wondrous--and more perilous--than they might imagine.

Andreasen's stories are simultaneously daring and deeply familiar, unfolding in wildly inventive worlds that convey our common yearning for connection and understanding. With a captivating new voice from an incredible author, The Sea Beast Takes a Lover uses the supernatural and extraordinary to expose us at our most human.

Advance Galley Reviews

As I readily admit, I have a tough time with short story collections. They are usually wildly uneven in quality and tone, and don't usually offer enough detail or depth to truly suck me into their worlds. BUT, I've had very good luck with a few exceptional anthologies lately, so was willing to give this one a try because of the remarkable billing and exceptionally interesting blurb. Unfortunately, for me, that was the best of the book... The collection didn't feel like one that "uses the supernatural and extraordinary to expose us at our most human" - it felt like a random assemblage of strangeness for the sake of being strange, rather than to illustrate or illuminate anything. The opening story lost me almost from the first pages - sinking old people into the sea? Really? Not sure I ever saw "us at our most human" there... From there, it was not much of an improvement, and after skimming through a bunch of the stories and failing to feel compelled to dig deeper into any of them, I closed the book on this collection. Literally.

I had the privilege to read this book through Penguin's First to Read, reserving an advance copy out of interest in short stories, speculative/science-fiction, and the premise of the stories' synopses. Overall, I was pleased with the craft of language - twisted combinations, the unstated dialogue, and the inventiveness of each "weird of the week" scenario. Andreasen clearly embraces the strange, inexplicable rituals and "truths" of our storytelling culture. This appreciation doesn't always carry to the reader, though - the thickness of ambiguity in many of the selections is too heavy, too hard to chew. "Show don't tell" is a short story rule, but a little more tell could scaffold understanding, or help conceptualize the palatable struggles of the protagonists. While each reader will certainly be able to rank the stories from "great" to "wah?", Andreasen does fill all selections with memorable set pieces and sensory-laden dreamscapes. The Sea Beast Takes a Lover is like a collection of Saunders, if the kooky was cranked up at the expense of clarity. I would recommend the book to my similarly peculiar friends, but urge caution to the casual or general reader. Personally, much more to like than frustrate. Regardless of this collection's success, I hope Andreasen's further work continues to invest in this magical realism, a shared sea for the strange and sly.

With any short story collection it’s always hit or miss for me. Unfortunately, this one was mostly a miss. My favorite story from the collection was The King’s Teacup at Rest, which I first read when it was published by The New Yorker. It was the main reason why I was excited for The Sea Beast Takes A Lover. The second reason was the synopsis, which threw around words like “daring” and “wildly inventive worlds”. I did see hints of those things. However, I didn’t like many of the stories in this collection, and the others were sort of average. I did like Andreasen’s style but still struggled through The Sea Beast Takes A Lover. This copy of the book was provided by First to Read for this review.

I was delighted to read this collection of surrealistic short stories. The tales vary in tone, character, and plot (a nuclear boy, a girl with no head, the title sea monster in love with a ship, and more), the one thing that every story has in common is a visceral sense of humanity. Those driving human forces--loss, lust, fear, greed, selfishness, etc--are so strong that they transcend the surreal trappings, and made each story feel unsettlingly relatable. This is not a book for everyone. I think you need to have a particular affinity for the strange, and a comfort with ambiguity to enjoy this. Several stories read like a small snapshot of something larger, so if you are a reader who needs a traditional and clear beginning, middle, and end to a story, you may be frustrated.

Wildly unique, these stories range the map from space to the sea to abandoned amusement parks but hit home with themes of love and loneliness.

Hm. This reminds of shows like The Twilight Zone. Which is all cool in it's own right. And yet I just couldn't get myself into these stories. Sometimes it felt like those short stories you were made to read in college english class. Not bad, but not great. The characters and events were enough to carry me through the first six before I just skimmed the rest. They're not boring by any means, but I found their lack of clarity and purpose too disorientating to keep me sated. I kept expecting major twists to come at the end and when they didn't, it all just fell flat. I do think this book is right for a certain niche of people. The stories have sci-fi elements and are a wonderful portray of imagination. Just not the right fit for me.

“They are strange places, these abandoned fairgrounds and shipwrecked boardwalks and dry, cavernous water parks. Something more than people has deserted them, made the world turn its gaze elsewhere and not look back.” I received a free e-ARC through First to Read from the publishers at Penguin Random House. 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

2.5 out of 5 for me. I really wanted to love this debut novel, I was expecting something along the lines of Ben Loory, and while I didn't hate it, it just wasn't my particular cup of tea. The writing itself is imaginative and talented, the stories themselves just came off as a little too weird for me. There were a couple good ones, especially the last - Blunderbuss, but overall they were too disjointed and off the wall for me to get really invested in them.

The stories in the book are pretty far fatched and blur the lines between science fiction and fantasy. Similar to Asmov and Bradbury in obscurities. Recommend.

This book is a riot, the tales run the spectrum, irreverent, weird, morbidly funny to horror and the bizarre. Surprisingly fun, enjoyable read. The titular story is my favorite. Recommend.

This book promised a lot, and I was surprised to find it really delivered. Andreasen's voice is unique in every way, and his stories are equally heartwarming and horrifying. Excellent!


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