REVIEW: “A Siren’s Cry Is a Song of Sorrow” by Stina Leicht

Review of Stina Leicht, “A Siren’s Cry Is a Song of Sorrow”, Apex Magazine 112 (2018): Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

This story is intense, and deals with the sexual abuse of a pair of little girls. Consider this your trigger warning for the review.

The narrator and her little sister wish they could be mermaids. If they were mermaids, then nobody would be concerned with what lay between their legs, and they would never have to become women, no longer be soiled and concerned with being good girls who dress demurely and cover up and never disappoint a man or speak up.

The beauty of this story is so much in the story itself, that I find that I have to discuss specific plot points. If you are averse to spoilers, feel free to skip to the last paragraph.

The narrator is so devoted to the idea of mermaids, that when she discovers Hans Christian Anderson’s story, she tears it out of her book in horror and rewrites it for her sister. It should go without saying that her new version has a much happier ending. It says so much about the narratives that we accept about women that the original has had any staying power (and maybe to the magic of Disney). I loved seeing this little girl recognize the misogyny inherent in the little mermaid being willing to give up her literal voice and her body for the love of a man who didn’t know who she truly was.

Mid-way through the story, they find some real witches and psychics, and go to ask one to turn them into mermaids. When she touches their hands, she realizes what’s going on in their home. She tells them that changing what they are isn’t the answer, and that even if it were, that they are too young to make that choice. That their problem isn’t being in the wrong bodies, but being unsafe in their own home. The whole story broke my heart, but for me, this was the heart of it, the moment that drives home that these girls believe the problem is them and their bodies, and not the people around them. It’s not a shocking revelation or new information, but the way it’s framed punched me in the gut. (On a lighter note, I like the implication that it is possible for someone be born in the wrong body, and for those people, getting a spell to turn them into a mermaid is entirely acceptable)

This story is intense, but it’s dealing with issues that are a reality for far too many women. That said, it’s beautiful and it will break you open in the best possible way. It deals with it’s subject matter in such a tender, yet straight forward way. Please remember that this story comes with a trigger warning, so keep that in mind, and take care of yourself.