When I find myself picking up another coming of age novel, sometimes I question why I’m so attracted to this genre. Am I stuck in the past? Trying to relive my teenage years? Or maybe my youth wasn’t as great as it seems like it was for others? Whatever the answer may be, reading about the discoveries of adolescence both mystifies and intrigues me. Especially when reading Chloe Aridjis’ dreamy and atmospheric depiction in Sea Monsters.
Although Aridjis thinks of this as a story of transformation, rather than a coming-of-age novel, the dreamy and self-absorbed emotions of a teenage girl are vividly depicted through Luisa, our moody and curious protagonist. While living in Mexico City with her mother and father, she decides to impulsively runs away from home with Tomás Román, an exotic and exciting boy she hardly knows, having created his persona in her head, fantasizing about him in the whimsical way of young adulthood. The two head for Zipolite, the “Beach of the Dead” in Oaxaca, where Luisa hopes to find a missing troupe of Ukranian dwarves that she believes may be hiding in the area after escaping from a Soviet circus touring Mexico.
“He had started out as a snag, a snag in the composition; from one moment to the next, there was no other way of putting it, he had begun to appear in my life back in the city. And since all appearances are ultimately disturbances, this disturbance needed investigating.”
But plot is not the thing that moves this novel forward. Most of Luisa’s time in Zipolite is spend reflecting on herself, the stories of shipwrecks her father told her, and lingering with the beachcombers and the perplexing “merman” who drinks beside her each night. Tomas becomes a disappointment, the result of reality and fantasy clashing together and she spends more of her time alone.
“There are two kinds of romantics, my older cousin had explained, the kind who is constantly falling in love and simply needs a person into whom they can pour every thought, dream, and project, and the kind of romantic who remains alone, waiting and waiting for the right person to arrive, a person who may not even exist. It was too early to know which kind I would be.”
Through this, Aridjis’ prose add to the mood of self-reflection and self-realization with her vivid, atmospheric details.
“If I stayed in much longer I was certain I would dissolve, there were probably hundreds of dissolved bodies in the ocean, swirling around with the shells and seaweed, that’s what happens when you immerse yourself too fully in any vastness, you eventually become part of it, part of the landscape, quite literally.”
Smart, funny, and effortless, this strangely hypnotic novel leers you in like the tide of the ocean and does not spit you back out.
By Chloe Aridjis
205 pages. 2019. Catapult
Buy it here.