Review “The Seas” by S. Hunt

How do you measure the value in a book?

Is it by style? Theme? Originality? Or perspective? There are so many different aspects to measure a book, and I’m sure everyone has their own criteria, which is why there’s no concrete rule of thumb on how to measure a bestseller. But, I’d like to work and create my own, using a teacher’s favorite tool: a rubric!

Okay. This may hurt some feelings. A lot of teachers feel attached to the four scale rubric; I don’t. And, I feel like I have to do 5-scale because this is usually supported by the 5-star rating system that multiple companies use to rate their products, including Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Goodreads.

This may take some time…


Okay. So this is pass 1 for the rubric. It hasn’t been edited, and it may change over time, but this seems like a good start from which to examine the latest book I finished: The Seas by Samantha Hunt. And of course I’ll support my decisions with proof from the book.


I feel that The Seas deserves a 5 because much of the book is written with highly selective word choice and sentence variation. Readers can see her extremely particular word choice throughout the book since she continuously uses the mermaid metaphor to develop physical and emotional imagery for the protagonist’s actions and reactions. An example of this can be seen below.

“Jude?” I turn and ask, but before I can get any response the water rushes in like a couple of police officers with their blue lights flashing, with their guns drawn. The water rushes in like a couple of police officers would rush in to surround the smashed-up car of some drunk people who are evading the law. The water is like two officers, one on either side of the car both with guns drawn and pointed at me. (171-172)

Here, we can see Hunt’s careful word choice. She has selected each word so that it 1) reveals the imagery of the action sequence of this scene and 2) co-develops a reaction through the use of the ocean as a metaphor. Although we see the action of officers collecting the protagonist to arrest, we feel the reaction of the protagonist as she feels herself drowning in the sense that she’s lost control. Because Hunt is doing so much within so few of lines, I believe this is a strong scene deserving of a high score, and because most of the book is mirrored in this example of style, I believe it earns a 5.


For me to rate this, I want to first consider what we know about the character, which is a lot. I know the protagonist’s whole family: how her mother was raised on a deaf island; how her father left eleven years ago, losing himself to the ocean—not sure whether because he’s actually a mermaid or committing suicide; and how her grandfather is obsessed with typesetting and font. I know the protagonist’s history on the island, how she’s always felt alienated and picked on. I know how she wants Jude to return her love. I also know she believes herself to be a mermaid, and so likes to participate in mermaid-like behaviors, like soaking in her bathtub or pretending to breathe water. We see this with details within scenes like,

I was thirsty. It was just floating there. And anyway, that word is mine. (22)

I sometimes sit underneath our small boardwalk. It’s out of the weather, away from anyone who might recognize me, close to the ocean. There I feel as though I am among people, while in actuality I am still alone. (25)

There is a window over my tub and when I was younger, I’d lie down in the tub instead of my bed. My mother would wake me and make me move back to my bed but finally she gave up and let me sleep there. I liked it in the tub because from the window I could see stars and the ocean and sometimes, if it was calm, I could see the stars in the ocean. (31)

We also see throughout the novel her obsession with the word blue. She loves words with multiple definitions, and I wonder if blue is to signify something else. But, I’ll look into that later. What I believe is that because this character has been overwhelmingly developed, shown so many details about her life, that the perspective requires a 5.


Going a little bit out of order here…but, I have to be honest, I’m not quite sure what to make of the theme, or even the book now that I’ve finished it. I thought I knew where it was going, and then I didn’t, and where it ended left me feeling very confused. But, I swear this has something to do with the theme.

Let me look at some common motifs within the book first.

  1. Her father “left,” or died—it depends what you think.
  2. She experiences unrequited love with her older friend, Jude.
  3. Her grandfather’s obsessed with words, including their sources and definitions.
  4. Her family’s experience with alcoholism.
  5. Jude’s post-traumatic stress disorder from the Iraq war.
  6. The protagonist’s belief she’s a mermaid.
  7. How she feels ostracized and alienated.
  8. Her blindness, or difficulty in seeing.

Well, now that I’ve had time to outline and contemplate, I believe I’ve figured it out, so now, let me show you her story. It’s beautiful. SPOILERS!!

This is a story of grief. Back when the narrator was eight, her father left home, his footsteps following from the edge of the beach to the sea, to where most of the town imagined he drowned since he was never seen of again.

My father was a dark, slender, and quiet man…He drank a lot—so did my grandparents…When my father disappeared I blamed his disappearance on his drinking. I was only eight at the time. Since then I have changed my mind. (59)

The original story is that her father must’ve committed suicide, possibly due to his drinking, but because of the overwhelming sadness and harshness of this reality, the characters within the book prefer to choose a different one, with each character experiencing their own version of reality in order to give them some sense of happiness.

People often suggest that it would be better if we knew for certain whether or not my father is dead. That, to me, seems cruel, as if they want me to abandon all hope. (32)

But to abandon all hope means to accept his death, and the narrator cannot accept this and neither can her family. Looking at her mother, we can see no one wants to accept this. Instead mom believes he’s walked out, and so she stands watch for his return.

My mother is still in love with him even though he’s been gone eleven years. She says, “Nothing has changed between your father and me. I just don’t see him as often.” As though he moved to Tallahassee or somewhere else way down south. (61)

A few old houses in town have widow’s walks—the small square rooms or flat platforms built into a roof so that women left behind by fishermen husbands could look out to see if their men’s ships were ever going to come in. We don’t have a widow’s walk, so my mother sometimes just sits on the roof with binoculars around her neck. She acts as if she’s just looking at the ocean, the birds, or the waves but I know she is looking for my father. (110)

But again, this is only one version of the story: her mother’s, which the narrator is not interested in. Instead, she chooses changes her story so that her father has returned to the ocean since her and her father are mermaids. This is belief stems from a story that her father used to tell her when she was young, back when he was alive.

He meant we were from the ocean. “You’re a mermaid,” he told me at the breakfast table. “Don’t forget it.” A corner of toast scraped the roof of my mouth when he said it. The cut it made helped me to remember. So I don’t think he’s dead. I think he is in the sea swimming and that is kinder than imagining his boots filling up with water, and then his lungs. (32)

This feels like a momenta of her father. If she believes in herself being a mermaid, she can still retain a memory and a connection with him, even if he’s gone. But, to hold onto this belief from when you were eight to when you’re nineteen for eleven years, this can only look one way to an outsider.

I’d rather be subject to the ocean’s laws than the laws that apply to young girls trying to become women here on dry land…Sadness can be like a political cause, almost, or a religion or a drug habit…I think of the carny girl’s teardrops and I can’t believe that is her purpose…I suspect that she wants her boyfriend to stay in prison for a long time so that every year she can add another drop until they reach below the collar of her shirt and everyone who sees her will say, “My. There’s a sad girl.” (62)

At this point, her grief has driven her crazy in the eyes of the town, so most people have ostracized her, leaving alone and lonely. It is not too long later, when she is twelve, that she finds someone who can be a friend, if only because he reminds her of her father.

There he is, I thought and meant my father, because I had been waiting for him to come back….Then Jude was coming out of the water and I thought, in quantum physics there must be a possibility that all the molecules of my father would find each other again and would walk out of the water looking at least a little bit like him…Tall and dark, he looked like my father. There at that moment, I started loving Jude. (23-24)

But the man is old, much older than her, and the man, Jude, realizes what this will look like in the eyes of the town, in the eyes of morals, court, her parents.

“I feel like your name was on that list. Like you are off limits. Like if I say your name or if I touch you, I’d get court-martialed, found guilty, and executed.” [Said Jude] (107)

And so, he refuses to accept her love. At this point, I wonder why she doesn’t stop loving him, knowing that he will never return her love. How does she keep this love alive from when she was 12 to 19 knowing it’s never returned? She even acknowledges in the book that she will never abandon even given this situation.

In the short time that I waited for Jude, not too long, the dragonfly matured enough to fly away. So I hated it because I knew that would never happen to me. (122)

So why does she stay? Is it because Jude resembles her father so much? Is he her replacement for a father figure? Or, is it because she takes after her father? Does she want to nurse him back to health, like her father’s done for animals and bugs?

He’d sit quietly, stirring a mixture of warm water and sugar to nurse back to health a sickly black fly…These are the parts of [my father] I find impossible to cut myself loose from. They are beautiful qualities. (61)

We see her stick with Jude even after he tells her he doesn’t love her, that he never will, so there is a sense of dedication that isn’t within normal limits, so I do believe that is some additional purpose driving her to stay with him. And, my belief is that she’s trying to fix him. I believe she is trying to nurse Jude back to health, given his post-traumatic stress disorder, by giving him all her love, realizing that if she can’t, the ocean will take him back, just like it did with her father.

He stares like water in a way that lets me know that if I don’t do my job as a mermaid, somebody else will, a bounty hunter from the ocean. (96)

This fits in with the narrator’s mermaid story because  as her mother mention’s mermaids can only kill. This is perhaps speaking in metaphor that the narrator can’t save Jude, that it’s impossible.

“Why would you want to be soulless? It’s a sad story. This Undine.” She holds up the book. “She falls in love with a knight named Huldbrand and Huldbrand loves Undine too, but he also loves her stepsister, Bertalda, a mortal. So Undine’s uncles, he’s a river spirit, is disgraced. He takes Undine back down under the water and tells her she must kill Huldbrand or else he will.” (111)

But the narrator swears she’ll be a different kind of mermaid. She’ll save him, and we follow her attempting to fix him throughout the story until the end, where her and Jude have too much to drink. And, when Jude finally works up the courage to tell her his war story, he finally works up the courage to love her. Unfortunately, except, this pushes Jude off the deep end with him committing suicide at the end, using the same way as her father. A repetition in events. And again, when the narrator doesn’t like this version of Jude’s story, she changes it.

Jude killed himself. The possibility that this might be the truth swoops near my head like a bat at dusk, a bat that soon flies off in the other direction uninterested in me. / Jude’s note. I smile. He really fooled them. (210)

I believe in this note, he explains his suicide, which the police say was by drowning, maybe saying why he couldn’t stay and love her, perhaps using the reasons he had outlined before. But because the narrator didn’t like his story, she changed it.

Words have more than one meaning all the time. Just like Jude’s note. (212)

And we know she changes words all the time, because she mentions other authors doing that before, which is seen earlier within the book.

I am not dead yet, though I feel so bad I might be close. I imagine that even if a sailor lived through the worst storm and spoke to the papers, the sailor might report, “The sea said ‘I get you’ and did not mean ‘get’ as in ‘understand’ like I initially thought.” The newspapers would translate what the sailor had said into, “The first wave snapped the pilothouse in two.” (83)

And so, she changes Jude’s story to that of him melting, since his chest was made of ice, because of her mermaid father not allowing them together, eerily similar to a story her father had told her much earlier in life.

“In fact,” he told me whispering, leaning forward and tucking his can of beer on the floor beside his armchair, “I traded my rib cage for a chunk of ice instead.” / This explained a lot. From my father I got many recessive genes. Fair eyes, fair skin, and the mermaid part. The surrender places. I did not get a torso of ice, though sometimes it feels that way, as if something solid that once was there melted now and still aches with the vacancy of him when it rains. (59)

This reinforces how the narrator sees Jude as a replacement for her father, and how when we read this story, we’re able to see how the narrator uses stories to cope with grief, love, and death. In summary, this story is of how the narrator uses stories to cope with loving her missing father, and the plot follows how the narrator uses this strategy in action with a figure similar to that of her father. We see this theme specifically in a scene where the author has trouble describing her love for her missing father, which we see in the excerpt below.

“I don’t think you’ll believe what I found,” he says. “A word, can’t pronounce it. We don’t have a word to match it but we should. We should develop it tonight because the word means, “the feelings one retains for someone he once loved.'” (124)

We see these feelings throughout the novel, as the narrator grasps to hold onto the love for her father, by using the story of her being a mermaid, a childhood story that her father used to love to tell her. We see this throughout the novel, perhaps as a worry that she will one day forget what her father looks like, due to quotes like these.

“Daddy,” I say, because I haven’t seen him since I was eight years old…My eyes are getting dry but I’m scared he’ll disappear if I blink. (126)

This story is definitely a sad one. And, I wonder if it is a story not only of love and grief, but of one of sanity. I imagine when she was younger, imagining herself a mermaid was a good coping mechanism for a while, especially when she was younger.

When I was younger I’d go down to the water and each wave would ask in a thug accent, “You want I should take care of those kids? You want I should tell your father?” (72)

But I also wonder if she lost herself along the way.

Can you “breathe” underwater? Are you really a mermaid or does it just feel that way in the awkward body of a “teenage girl”? I breathe water into my lungs. I wait for my test results. (136)

“I don’t want to be the mermaid who kills Jude, Mom.” / “Oh,” she says in a voice that sounds like the voice of a mother whose daughter just broke something, a piece of china or crystal and she is trying not to get made about it. But in this instance, though, the thing that my mother believes is broken is me. (133)

I guess in a way, grief will always break you, but maybe this story asks, what do you do to cope? Because this story pulled me along so intensely, I am definitely giving its theme a 5. It had a strong drive. I loved the story that came out of examining its motifs and plot, and I really feel like this is a story I will want to pass along to those who have lost someone. 


Now here me out. In the beginning, I thought this story was highly original, and I still like to argue that it is, but when looking at my rubric, I believe that because this book  encompasses some motifs that have been used previously, it’s not necessarily perfectly original although the plot certainly is.

One of those previously-used motifs is the time-old mermaid motif. This story has been overused in stories like The Little Mermaid, The Thirteenth Year…just look at Goodreads list of mermaid books. It’s no surprise that people like to hear the story again; just imagining you’re unique in some way is a comfort.

A second common motif is to externalize your grief through some sort of fantasy. I don’t know how much I can find on this, especially since it took me a while to think of it, but I’ve written a short story version of a similar tale. So, I don’t think I can claim this as original in my perspective since technically I’ve heard of it before.

A third is her family’s experience with alcoholism.

I would argue that this story is still unique if for the fact that it balances reality and fantasy, and you don’t see a lot of books that can balance it that artfully.


Hunt, Samantha. The Seas. Portland, OR: Tin House Books, 2018. Print.


Quotes I haven’t used but that I like: 

blue – 1. having the color of the clear sky or the deep sea 2. melancholy 3. puritanical 4. obscene 5. faithful 6. said of women, especially those with literary inclinations / If one word can mean so many things at the same time then I don’t see why I can’t. (216)

“It’s the ocean. It’s coming up behind us,” I say. I watch as the blue rises up like a tidal wave so quickly that I am certain it will catch up with us soon…I don’t think we can outrun the ocean but I’ll try for your sake.” (171)

And the red bird sings, I’ll be blue because you don’t want my love. (75)

The Sudden Appearance of Hope

So, I just broke a copyright. I stole the title of the book for my post, but only because it is such a well-rounded title—just like the book. *wink*

Backstory: About a young woman named Hope Arden, she finds herself unable to be remembered. Once someone sees her face, within about one minute after they look away, she finds herself forgotten. First it happens to her teachers, then her friends, then her family. And without a place to call home, she falls back to what she does best:

Be forgotten.

Hope turns into a thief, an easy career when no one can remember her face, and although there are computers and cameras, the people who run them can’t bear to remember to add her to the system and forget between one moment and the next.

And while the book sounds interesting at just this bare minimum, there is Claire North’s name on the cover, well-known author of Touch and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, which if you haven’t read those yet, then you really should.

AND beyond that, there’s Perfection.

But, I don’t want to spoil the book beyond that, even though I will be eternally bound to spoil it while reflecting on some of my most favorite parts, but still. If you haven’t read this book, you should. I think this will trump my best read of this year already.

The feelings, the things I learned, the ideas I have had today, so many ideas, so many feelings, they will die with my memory. I fear that loss. But more, a terror that I must share with my future self. I fear what this means for me. If you forget the joy of this day, then what joy you give to others will also be forgotten, and your life has no consequence, no meaning, no worth. (74)

There are plenty of these thoughts riddled throughout the book, deep, reflective, and yet applicable to any person reading it. How many times can we relate to this thought? How often do we wonder what mark we can leave behind on this world? I wonder if the only meaning our life holds is how others remember us when we’re gone. What impression do we want to leave behind? Even if only a few relate to this, I love this BIG thought near the beginning of the book. It creates such a real character. #ShowerThought

A woman with Perfection, snubbing the food her partner offered her at the cafe where I ordered breakfast.

A man with Perfection, updating the app on his phone, a sports bag slung over his back, arms bulked up with protein shakes, chest heaving, sweat on the back of his neck.

A teenager with Perfection, looking at the prices for the perfect haircut.

Open your eyes: it is everywhere. (228)

This is the perfect metaphor. I can’t stress it enough, through repetition of the word, the reader creates this picture of what perfect looks like, and yet, the last sentence is what drives it home. “It is everywhere.”

Have you thought of what perfection is? What do you think perfection is? Did you notice who I asked? You. Perfection has no definition. It is only an opinion, a preference, an idea, a trend. Perfection only exists in the eye of the beholder, a common quote, but one maybe people have forgotten to take into consideration. There is no perfection; there is only the idea of what you think it means, and right now society is trying to force-feed you their idea of perfection, through marketing, advertisements, anything to make you the best consumer. Because that’s how this economy sustains itself: Consumption.

This book is riddled with ideas like these, and while I’ve dog-earred many a page, I won’t bore you—or spoil the book—by throwing them all in this post. Just know that this books dives into the metapor of perfection and contemplates what it means in today’s society. It’s one of the reasons I love this book, not only deep and reflective, but then it throws this interesting character with an interesting talent. It leaves me wanting more.

Thank you Claire North.

North, Claire. The Sudden Appearance of Hope. New York, NY: Redhook Books, 2016. Print.

Nugget: Metaphors are golden

You know when you spend more than a few pages on a metaphor that you really like it.

Like, I’m wondering at this point if Neal Stephenson was an old miner, or if he had been one of those tourists at some point, where he decided to try gold mining with a little metal pan and a bucket of dirt, only succeeding in getting those tiny flakes of gold dust. (You know what I mean if you’ve tried it.)

But Stephenson loves gold. Almost as much as he likes metaphors, and he’s really good at it. He spends a good portion of this chapter-set in the Newtowne, Massachusetts Bay Colony on October 12, 1713-talking about his gold metaphor. Exactly four pages of it. Which doesn’t seem like a lot, but it gets hilarious when every flashback to a memory begins with


But, here’s how his series of memories starts. Or, at least part of it. 

In years since he has rarely gone back to those old memories. As he does now, in the tavern near Harvard College, he’s startled to find that the muddy whirl has been swept away. The mental pan has been churning for fifty years, sorting the dirt and sand to the periphery and throwing it off. Most of the memories are simply gone. All that remain are a few wee nuggets. It’s not plain to Daniel why these impressions have stayed, while others, which seemed as or more important to him at the time they happened, have gone away. But if the gold-panning similitude is faithful, it means that these memories matter more than the ones that have flown. For gold stays in the pan’s center because of its density; it has more matter (whatever that means) in a given extent than anything else. (47-48)

I know that was a rather long block quote, but I really love it because of the metaphor he aligns with his memory. A person is prone to forget, and it is similar to gold, where only the worthy pieces (the ones with more weight) are left behind, where everything else is thrown away, back into the sand and water.

It makes me wonder how much time he spent on this metaphor. Whether he knew he wanted one here; if he initially wrote this in; or if he went back and changed this after he had come up with the idea of gold.

Either way, he was happy with it, because he used his “Nuggets” to begin each memory in order to literally create a quick history for Daniel for information we might need to understand him. Literally a sentence or two to create a brief image that can help us understand his beginnings.

And before I go, there’s one more metaphor I want to show you that I really liked. Again, also related to memories.

The conversation might not have gone precisely this way. Enoch had the same way with his memories as a ship’s master with his rigging-a compulsion to tighten what was slack, mend what was frayed, caulk what leaked, and stow, or throw overboard, what was to no purpose. So the conversation with Clarke might have wandered into quite a few more blind alleys than he remembered. (33)

So for my last question to you, how do you come up with metaphors like these? Or, what are your favorites?

Happy reading!

Stephenson, Neal. Quicksilver. New York, NY: William Morrow, 2003.

Juxtaposition of beauty and need

What’s considered ‘right and proper’? I feel like this phrase is the equivalent of asking what’s normal? And that’s a weighty statement, one I’ve been asking myself right now. After all, it’s hard to judge what’s normal when no two people are alike.

This is the question the short story, “Right and Proper,” raises within Matthew Buscemi’s book Transmutations of Fire and Void. In “Right and Proper,” the reader follows along with Kailey, a meticulous manager whose emotion has almost been completely removed in her practical, opinion-less job. For someone working in quantum decoherence, they remove the possibility of an object’s existence in order to generate energy. Unfortunately, this means the elimination of art, creativity, of this spark of existence – the thing that gives us life.

I like how this story brings this fact of life to light, that without creativity and enjoyment, the world be an expressionless, boring place. You can tell immediately that the characters have the bare minimum of emotion – happiness at order, sadness in the face of chaos. I think what I liked most in this story is the contrast between beauty and need.

“The interior is a simple lattice, but it grows more
angles and curves as you go outward, until the edges, with those helices and spirals. Oh Su Ges-Limnu-Nis-Limmu. It’s amazing.”

The hunk of transparent tungsten remained to Kailey nothing more than a hunk of transparent tungsten, despite the recruit’s description.

Kailey produced her computer, and instructed the nanite control system to synthesize a glass of water into her hand. (7)

In this scene, we witness the superior diss the imagination of the inferior intern, although internally, who even though is inexperienced, imagines beauty in the creation of complexity. But while the superior explains this object is just for power, ignoring its beauty, she uses that same power to generate a glass of water.

To me, contrasting the justification of creativity/beauty/enjoyment with the necessity of food/water argues that some elements of life are hard to achieve without first moving past the sacrifice to necessity. Where the need to survive comes first, art will always come second, only after comfort has been first achieved. This juxtaposition I really enjoyed, which didn’t take more that putting the two actions side-by-side. A relatively simple solution.

Buscemi, Matthew. “Right and Proper.” Transmutations of Fire and Void. Seattle, WA: Fuzzy Hedgehog Press, 1-10. Print.

Concrete versus Abstract

I think for today, this topic works best by example.


I was careful with my new body, timid, where I once was brave, and careful, where I once was daring. I always feared what was to come because I knew what was coming before it was here.

I know. Not my best work. But it’s really difficult to write in abstracts. Maybe this isn’t the best example, but you’ll get the picture. Prose can also be much better than this. (Or poetry.)


“Holes and crags that I climbed along and leaped in my first life, to my more conservative elder brain suddenly seemed places of danger, and I wore my child’s body as an old woman might wear a skinny bikini bought for her by a fragile friend” (North 10).

What’s the difference?

If you don’t see it, read my next I’m-sorry-this-couldn’t-be-better example.


You take a bite of the fruit and continue to eat, the taste reminding you of sweet beginnings, a continuous loop of life that keeps going and going, an endless repetition until it finally comes to an end at the center – the single finale that reminds you of the contrast of new and old, birth and death and back again. Always bitter and sweet. Never too much of one side but a balance in the middle.


It reminds you of a grape, except this fruit is of the larger variety, always covered in a skin of orange and red, swirling together in a constant mirage of sunset that feels like the fuzz on your face if you were still a baby or hadn’t yet experienced puberty. The perfect ending to the perfect meal – a peach.

Not the best of examples, but bear with me. What do you notice?

It should be that abstract always outlines abstract concepts – things that are more akin to thoughts and feelings, not really defined as a hard image, taste, smell, or sound. Abstract concepts are thoughts or ideas and are usually the most difficult things to convey, where as concrete examples are easy to define. When I say a peach, you think of the fruit. It’s a concrete example. Easy to paint a picture with color, taste, feeling, and smell although I can’t even begin to comprehend how to describe that.

Because abstract concepts are so difficult to communicate, they need concrete images to attach to, which is why abstract things are hard to write. They’re just as hard to read. Even while writing it, I couldn’t help but include concrete images: bite or loop, even birth and death to an extend.

Even if I was talking about “birth” and “death,” by relating it to a fruit, I’ve made it more definable. Just as North did the character’s loss of innocence. I’ve just turned a phrase into an image, making it more relatable to the readers.

This is a good trick on how to talk about big ideas – metaphors, images.

North, Claire. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. New York, NY: Redhook Books, 2014. Print.

Edit on 11/16:

Mixed example of concrete and abstract descriptions by BJ Neblett – You take a bite of life and continue to eat, the skin sweet and tangy all at once. Crunching into the meat you find it difficult at first, soon learning the subtle nuances of the texture, the run of the grain. Savoring as much as possible, you can feel the juice seep from the corners of your mouth. Finally, with great expectation, you reach the center and find a hard sour pit. Disappointed at first, you realize from this core will spring new life.