Books Eelgrass by Tori Curtis
Eelgrass by Tori Curtis
AL Amy Leibowitz
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About the Author
Tori Curtis is a gay woman with an office job who views family, disability, and identity through classic speculative fiction tropes. She lives in upstate New York, with her steadfast fiancée and fewer dogs than said fiancée would like. Eelgrass is her first novel.
September 16, 2016
In Irish folklore, a selkie is a seal who can take off her sealskin like a coat and become a woman, seducing fishermen anywhere she goes. If he steals her sealskin, she is bound to his home, marrying him and mothering his children – unless she can find it and escape, leaving her family on shore forever.
In Eelgrass, a lesbian reimagining of tales about women and the sea, Efa is having too much fun to worry about stories. Too young to have earned respect in her village, she spends her days roving with her beautiful and vivacious best friend, Bettan — until the night Bettan disappears into a rainstorm, and Efa can’t shake the certainty that she’s been taken.
Desperate to rescue her friend, Efa seeks out the fishwives, half-human fish who dwell under the tides and kill sailors with their sharp teeth and alluring songs. She doesn’t expect to find Ninka, an outrageous young woman who makes her feel giddy and who might be the key to unlocking her own courage.
I’m not usually a reader of fantasy, but the plot of this had my attention. It’s more folklore than genre fantasy, and this is a well-written novel with an unusual theme. I don’t believe I’ve ever read any lesbian selkie fiction before.
I will admit that I am not the target audience for this novel. I’m long past the age of the main characters, and it’s out of my range in terms of preference. However, the writing is so beautiful and the setting so captivating that it hardly mattered. Reading it took me back to a time when I was the age this book is intended for, and I would have treasured it then. I wish it had existed at the time it would have spoken most to me, and I hope that it gets into the hands of many young people who need to see themselves reflected in such a story.
There is an ebb and flow to the story that perfectly matches the seaside setting and the characters. One of the things I loved about this is the way in which Efa is changed by her experience. She comes away from her search for Bettan having found her courage, and her knowledge of the world has expanded (not always in a good way). But she is not fundamentally a different person. She remains true to who she is at her core.
My only reservation was the end. Without giving spoilers, I was unclear on what the message of the story was meant to be. I respect that we are seeing Efa’s perspective on the events, so this appears to be her assessment. However, it left me confused as to what readers were supposed to deduce from her viewpoint. There seems to be an underlying commentary on the real world through the lens of the imaginary one, and I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. There’s an element of cautionary tale here, but I couldn’t decide exactly what we’re being cautioned against.
Aside from that, this is a wonderful, well-written story. Although there’s a little romance, readers shouldn’t look for that to be the primary focus here. At its heart, this is a book about friendship and family and bravery.
For beautiful writing, an unusual bit of folklore, and a thought-provoking story, this gets 5 stars.
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