the Little Red Reviewer

Selkie Stories Are For Losers, by Sofia Samatar (Hugo Nom)

Posted on: June 26, 2014

I’m posting my thoughts on the Hugo nominated short stories all week.  You can read Sofia Samatar’s nominated short story “Selkie Stories Are For Losers” over at Strange Horizons.  Click here to see how far I’ve gotten in my Hugo reading.

here’s what I thought:

She knows all the stories, the one where he hides her skin in a locked trunk, the one where it’s hidden in the attic, the one where it’s in his knapsack. And always in the end, the Selkie finds her skin and returns to the sea. Our narrator knows these stories like the back of her hand, yet she adamantly refuses to share them with her closest friend Mona. And since her Mom left, she could really use a friend who isn’t interested in Selkie stories.
There was that magical moment when I realized exactly what the title was referring to. In Selkie stories, the reader is always meant to feel sorry for the Selkie who is trapped on land, and such stories reach their end when the Selkie finds their skin and returns to their underwater family. We’re rarely shown the other side of the equation.  It’s not “loser” as in “shape of an L on her forehead”, it’s “loser” as in the one who lost something, the one who found themselves on the losing side of a conflict, of history, of the law, of magic.
She’s a little jealous of the Selkies in the stories, I think. That they inevitably return to their families like nothing ever happened, and that their families want them back. Everyone in “Selkie Stories are for Losers” seems to have something they are trying to return to, and failing. Here on land, we don’t have a choice – life marches on, leaving us behind.
I loved the unpretentious, fearless, nothing-to-prove writing style. Like the best magical realism, this could be the narrator’s exact experience, or it could be a coping mechanism for what’s happened in her life. Sometimes when reading magical realism, I really do think about the possibility that an unreliable narrator has come up with a coping mechanism. That’s not meant as an insult to the character or the story or the author, it’s just an added dimension for me when reading magical realism. It’s fun for me to think about what’s really happening in the context of the story, and what the narrator is just making up.
I read the story a few times, and never did learn the name of the narrator.  On the one hand, unnamed narrators are a pet peeve of mine, but on the other hand it means she could be anyone – my neighbor, the waitress at that little diner, the girl giggling with her friend at the corner store.

1 Response to "Selkie Stories Are For Losers, by Sofia Samatar (Hugo Nom)"

I like stories with that possibility too. I always wanted to teach a class or write a paper on that idea, with the examples of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe; A Little Princess; and Pan’s Labyrinth. All three feature little girls who have been displaced by was and lost or were separated from parents. All three feature the character’s life in our world and a parallel fantastic story that mirrors the war or their other struggles. However, Narnia is presented as totally happening (although some have suggested otherwise), the Ramayana story in A Little Princess is presented as pure fiction, and Pan’s Labyrinth is up for debate as to whether the events were happening in reality or just in the mind of a seriously distressed little girl. I love all three options and in the end it’s irrelevant which one was real and which one wasn’t. They all serve the dual function of entertainment and a means to process trauma or emotion.


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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