fantasy and science fiction book reviewsfantasy and science fiction book reviewsSailor Twain: Or the Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel

So while I keep saying that I appear not to be the person for whom graphic novels are created, as I have hardly ever found one I strongly respond to, I’m also stubborn (or dumb) enough to keep trying now and then. The most recent attempt was Mark Siegel’s Sailor Twain. Alas, I’m still that guy.

Set on a steamer traveling up and down the Hudson during the late 1800s, Sailor Twain is the story of two men — Twain, the captain of the Lorelei; and Lafayette, the French-born owner of the steam line — and the intersection of their lives with a pair of women, one of whom is a wounded mermaid Twain pulls aboard one night and nurses back to health. It is also a story of obsession, love, sacrifice, duality, and the lure and danger of becoming entangled in the unseen/fantastical world.

SailorTwain3I had mixed reactions to the art, which is done in all charcoal (I know this because my attached letter told me so). I thought the medium was perfectly suited to much of the text, lending it a murky, misty imagery that nicely paralleled the story. The landscape images were especially gorgeous. Anytime Siegel pulled back from the ship he had me right there, lingering over each such panel, drinking it all in. On the other hand, I was far less enamored of the drawings of people, who were too cartoonish for me, with their wide eyes and pronounced features. Obviously, this is a conscious decision on Seigel’s part, and one could make the argument that it fits the theme of duality, with its two starkly contrasting modes, but I still didn’t care for it.

The story left me a bit cold. As is usual with graphic novels, I found the language to be generally flat and non-descript. The story had a nice sense of unresolved mystery about it for a while, but I felt it went on too long SailorTwain2and after a while began hitting the themes too hard. In that same vein, the names were a bit too on the nose for me, as were a few other such parallels/allusions.

I’m not going to really give Sailor Twain a recommendation in this review as it’s been proven often enough that graphic novels just are not my thing and so it doesn’t seem quite fair to the authors to give them a do-not-recommend, since those who do cotton more to the genre might find my appraisal way off. So I’ll just leave you with these impressions, along with the middle-of-the-road three stars, since I have to give a star count. Maybe one of our fellow reviewers with a more graphic novel bent will give it a shot and offer up another point of view.


  • Bill Capossere

    BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.