Brine, ships & harpoon-wielding mermaids – a review of Lisa L. Hannett’s short story ‘A Shot Of Salt Water’

The May 2015 issue of The Dark.

Accordions unpleated welcoming songs the day the mermaids returned.

The first notes droned joyful at dawn, played by young men with wool collars unrolled against the wind. Mattress-clouds bulged above land and water, miles of damp cotton dulling the fishermen’s music. As the sky blanched, fiddlers sawed harmonies, horsehairs screeching on weather-warped bows. Bodhráns were rescued from blanket boxes and cupboards, clatter-spoons from the backs of junk drawers. Soon drummers thumb-pounded down autumn-gold slopes from the village. Beats jigged and reeled past the wharves, along the coast, then splashed through froth seething to shore.

An excerpt from A Shot of Salt Water.

Some stories are best introduced by their own words, and Lisa L. Hannett’s beguiling and dark-tinged short story ‘A Shot of Salt Water’ is one of those short stories. This is a fantasy tale, but Hannett’s singular and ruggedly poetic language plants it firmly in a strange world that feels real enough to touch in spite of its strangeness: with men waiting for their harpoon-wielding mermaid wives to return in their ships, a village celebrating the women’s return in the briny waves, and babies taken from the ocean and brought up on land.

Billy Rideout has been waiting for his wife, Beetie, for nigh on 10 months. When she returns from the long hunt at sea with the other women, she brings a baby with her: a baby taken from another people, a baby Billy knows isn’t his, isn’t even human. It’s the way of things in his village: there are “those born to men, and those taken”. But Billy finds it harder than most to accept this turn of events.

A Shot of Salt Water is quite simply an amazing short story. Hannett’s language is alive: harsh and clipped in places, yet flowing and enticing at the same time. Her writing gives the world in this story a rough and real presence way beyond the polished surfaces of some high fantasy tales, and her words pull you inside the world, inside the strangeness of it, making you feel the place and its people as though you were right there with them.

No description can really make this story justice, so head over to The Dark and read it!

Lisa L. Hannett’s short stories have been published in many anthologies and magazines, including The Dark, Clarkesworld Magazine, and Apex Magazine.

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