Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Captain's Lament, Stephen Graham Jones

Opening: My name is Quincy Mueller, but since the merchant marines I've been known almost exclusively as Muley. It has nothing to do with my character, however. Far from being obstinate or contrary, I'm in fact liberal and engaging. A more enthusiastic conversationalist you're not likely to find; sailors are lonely, I mean, and hungry for company. If anything, I suppose—and this just because I'm honest to a fault—I err toward the overbearing, as isolation is something I've had my fill of.

Capsule: Early on in “Captain’s Lament” by Stephen Graham Jones the first-person narrator informs us that we “already know” his story, that we in fact “likely grew up with it.” This builds suspense immediately and sets the stage for the surreal behind-the-urban-legend-story that follows, involving a merchant marine by the name of Quincy Mueller and the mysterious nurse, Margaret, who tends to his recovery and eventual ejection from the hospital fourteen months after the near-fatal accident that lands him there.

The story moves at a quick clip, which is a credit to Jones, since for about half of it not much happens. The initial dynamic between nurse and convalescent sailor seems a little humdrum but Jones adds enough narrative hooks to keep us from drifting. The dreamy atmosphere and obsession/metaphor with the sea are conveyed potently, and there are captivating images.

Other aspects were not as compelling for me: the voice of the narrator seems over-educated and homogenous--more like a third-person voice transliterated to the first person--than what we might expect for the “salty, fully-bearded” sailor, and there doesn’t seem much foundation, psychological or otherwise, for the relationship between him and the nurse. In addition, though the ending explains the urban-legend perspective, it introduces a fantastic element which feels a little out of odds with the earlier proceedings. A warning about the violence, too.

Overall, this feels like a mixed success: after reading, we have an idea of the words that accompany the captain’s lament, but feel little for his plight.
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