A dark collection of stories that will not leave a lasting impression
There are many different short story anthologies in the world, each with their own themes and each with their own target audiences. Due to these certain audiences, many anthologies will not be enjoyed by everyone who chooses to read them. One such anthology is Mermaids and Other Mysteries of the Deep, edited by Paula Guran. When people hear the word “mermaid,” many would probably think of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. This collection contains no such story as that of Hans Christian Anderson or Disney’s mitigated version of Anderson’s story.
22 stories written by 22 well-known writers fill the pages of this anthology. The stories themselves carry a common theme and flow rather nicely together; however, the common theme is rather… dark. Of course, original mermaid stories are darker: the real truth about mermaids, sirens, selkies, etc. is that they are normally evil. They are not beautiful creatures: they are slimy, ugly, sharp toothed creatures that lure sailors to their watery graves, drowning good and bad people alike. Granted, the accuracy of the mythology of how mermaids were depicted from the very beginning of their creation is very well written, it would have been nice if there had been a variety of both dark, morbid stories and happier, more fairy tale like stories.
Each story is unique, yet unusual. The uniqueness is refreshing, for the stories are far from predictable or cliché, but many, if not all of the stories, will probably leave readers wanting more. The stories seemed jumbled, sometimes not having enough information, while other times, having too much detail, and all ending rather abruptly. The writing styles are, surprisingly, similar to one another and this, also, seems to take away from the anthology as a whole. Rather than reading each writer’s unique style, it seems more like the writers were trying to collaborate and write the same as one another.
A few common themes are found throughout the anthology. Some stories, such as Samuel R. Delany’s “Driftglass,” Seanan McGuire’s “Each to Each,” and Jane Yolen’s “The Corridors of the Sea,” focused on humans finding ways to turn themselves into fish-like creatures. Mermaids and mermen being considered muses popped up in stories like Elizabeth Bear’s “Swell” and Delia Sherman’s “Miss Carstairs and the Merman.” There are also stories where a human rescues a mermaid or merman and is given something in return to “better their lives,” like Peter S. Beagle’s “Salt Wine” and A. C. Wise’s “Letters to a Body on the Cusp of Drowning.”
The mixture of first person and third person points of view made the stories flow together in a nicer manner. It is tedious when every story is told from the same point of view. However, it would have been nice to read more stories from the point of view of the mermaid, merman, selkie, etc. Only two stories in the anthology, Sarah Monette’s “Somewhere Beneath Those Waves Was Her Home” and Angela Slatter’s “A Good Husband,” were told from the point of view of a mermaid. It would have also been more interesting if more stories had been about other sea creatures, perhaps sharks or the Kraken. The title of the anthology does mention “Other Mysteries of the Deep,” so where are the “other mysteries?”
For readers who wish to find an interesting collection of short stories to read, this collection, as a whole, is nowhere near the best anthology out there to pick up. While some stories by these talented writers are worth reading, the vast majority do not make much sense and normally end abruptly, making the reader wonder where the rest of the story is. The constant dark story after dark story becomes repetitive and makes it more difficult for the reader to continue reading through the anthology. The many times the phrase “from the sea we came and to the sea we will return” seemed odd. Of course, there are those who believe we developed from amphibians that crawled out of the sea, but whatever happened to the phrase, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust?” Perhaps those who are more interested in mermaid mythology would enjoy Mermaids and Other Mysteries of the Deep, but unless one has that deep interest, one may not find what he or she wishes to read in these stories.
Originally published at www.examiner.com on August 20, 2015.