Samantha Hunt’s moody debut novel, The Seas (newly out in paperback from Picador), is set in an isolated, declining fishing village in the far northeast. Despite the surrounding natural beauty of ocean and sky, it’s a bleak place that claims the highest rate of alcoholism in the country: as in many isolated rural towns, there’s not much to do there but drink. The introspective 19-year-old narrator endures mainly through her imagination. Despite an otherwise rational, scientific bent, she’s obsessed with the notion that she’s really a mermaid–something her father, long since vanished at sea, told her when she was little. She’s also obsessed with Jude, a melancholy Iraq war veteran 14 years her senior whom she’s longed for since she was 12, when she saw him emerge from the ocean that had claimed her father. She knows, though, that by loving him she’s dooming him to death–he’s a mortal and she’s a mermaid, after all. Hunt’s often lyrical narrative at times ventures into fable, an effective tactic that mirrors the narrator’s romantic longings and awkward transition from adolescence to womanhood. With its themes of desire and sadness, The Seas is a particularly good read for a rainy afternoon. Hunt appears with Emily Anderson and Amanda Marbais as part of the Powell’s North Reading Series. Thu 2/16, 7 PM, Powell’s Bookstore, 2850 N. Lincoln, 773-248-1444.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joe Hagan.