Each and every one of the short stories in Michael Andreasen’s The Sea Beast Takes a Lover is a work of surreal, off-the-wall fantasy, about as far from my usual literary purview as you can get yet they had me transfixed, wondering what kind of wacky journey Andreasen was going to take me on next. Comprising twelve stories, it’s the kind of book you’ll either love or hate but don’t assume which of those two categories you’ll fall into. You may find yourself surprised.
From the get-go you know you’re in discombobulating territory as a loving son remembers the many happy times they have shared before his father is crated up in his wheelchair and dropped into the sea. Next, a man longs for his wife after he and his unconsummated one-night-stand are abducted by aliens (yes, I know) and takes radical action to find her. In the titular story a crew look on helplessly, quarrelling amongst themselves, fretting about their cannibalistic admiral and being propositioned by mermaids as a many tentacled sea monster tightens her grip on what she hopes is her new lover. One of my favourites has a group of saints manifested in a parlour, hampered by their idiosyncrasies, from Saint Tongue of Flame who consumes half a bottle of whisky with disastrous results to Saint Upside-down Skull who has no one to heal. I could go on but that will give you a flavour of this strange, often very funny collection.
There are recognisable themes running through Andreasen’s stories – a few digs at religion, a compassion for the human state – but what makes these stories work is his often darkly bizarre humour and his arresting writing. In ‘Jenny’ a brother’s devotion to his headless sister constricts his own life but any sentimentalism is punctured by the story’s blackly comic ending. The word pictures of ‘The Sea Beast Takes a Lover’ graphically summon up a B-movie monster, desperate with love. The entire collection is studded with wonderfully striking images and phrases:
There had also been reports of small children being strategically lured away from their playmates by metal hunting parties and pounced upon en masse, pulled down by a frenzy of silver claws and tiny, stainless steel teeth
The mermaids are blue-skinned and black-eyed, but apparently literate enough to tackle the Brontës and Isaac Asimov
The time travellers who had left earlier reenter the conference room, which is now a cereal bowl of priceless historical debris
But most important, the bear taught him orienteering, not by reading maps or stars but by following the compass of his own loneliness
Hard to do justice to fiction so very different from what I usually read but I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and gave this one a try.