So I met Layne Maheu about five years ago, when we were both at Book Expo in DC for our first books. His was about a bird, mine about a trapeze girl wearing wings, which made/makes us practically soulmates. And by “about a bird” I mean that Layne’s book, Song of the Crow, is about a crow, who narrates the book and tells the story of Noah’s Ark.
It’s not nothing, writing a novel from the perspective of a bird.
It was our mother. But from where? Where? Who could tell with the wind chasing her calls?
I saw her, a few trees away. She appeared on one branch, then another, then in an altogether different tree. But it was just the yes and no of the wind heaving her perch and whipping her feathers into a confusion of leaves. Why didn’t she swoop onto the nest and stuff food into us?
“Fly!” she kept calling.
So what choice did we have? Though I’d never left the deep of the nest, I reluctantly climbed up to the fatal jump. There was no way we could survive it, but Our Many must have known there was no way we’d survive the falling of Our Giant either. And to die at least trying, even though you couldn’t fly yet, was a way to fly off to the Tree of the Dead. Any death before that was no death at all, but only a quick flight into whatever fate befell you—flies and maggots and stiff feathers and dust. The only way to become a true crow was to fly. Until then you were nothing, without a name; flying was all.
As you can see, it’s a strange, gorgeous novel that you should read immediately.
So as I’ve clearly demonstrated, Layne knows something about imagining other worlds and alien perspectives, and is kind of (awesomely) weird as well as being rugged and handsome and gentlemanly enough to snowshoe with winter-sport-challenged authoresses on snowy Vermont literary festival excursions, when everyone else was off obnoxiously skiing and said authoress did not want to die.
For this reason it seemed only natural for him to meditate on the mermaid, which he graciously does below.
Half-land, Half-Sea Beauty
by your friend, Layne
I like mermaids like I like walking along the beach or looking out over the ocean on a weathery day. It’s strange to look out over the sea, and know that, under its waves, it is completely uninhabitable to you. Left on your own, you would die out there, in the cold sea currents and the briney green bubbles, within a matter of minutes.
And so, I like the notion of a half-human, half-sea creature, living down under the waves, especially one with obvious overtones of sex and tragedy.
Life from the sea is so different from us. It’s strange to think that a certain type of vegetarian won’t eat a bunny or a rabbit or a chicken, but will eat a fish. Perhaps because the land creature has things like eyes and feelings and babies and a heart. And land animals have these things in ways we can recognize. But life in the sea is so alien to us. It’s harder to empathize with a fish. Even though I’ve read that fish have feelings and a complicated social life and a good memory, still, these qualities just don’t translate. So, if you put a sea creature on the plate of a certain type of vegetarian, the pesca-tarian will eat the fish/crustacean/mollusk without compunction.
We just don’t get it—the life of a fish.
There’s something too different about them—such complete otherness—they’re cold, they’re scaly, they’re slimy, they’re wet. They’re smelly. In a way they seem more foreign to us than plants. Yet, every human, every mammal, begins its life in the salt water of its momma’s belly. We start out just like a fish. So I think there is a yearning in us, a psychic desire in the DNA of our imaginations, to envision the Mermaid:
the half-land, half-sea beauty.
She swims up and sings to us between these two worlds, where our desire can go no further upon the shore.