My Father was a Man on Land and a Whale in the Water by Michelle Steinbeck

My Father was a Man on Land and a Whale in the Water

Michelle Steinbeck

This short, coming-of-age story is a disturbing, bizarre fairy tale that disorientates you with surprises and shocks in its hallucinatory, toxic-coloured world. Rules of plot and narrative don’t apply as the absurdist prose fluctuates between nightmares and a comical quest for the meaning of life. A modernist mash-up, audacious and psychologically profound.


A pregnant woman stands in the doorway. She looks as if she’s about to burst.
I’m Loribeth, I say, I’m looking for my father – your husband?
He’s not here, the woman says and presses her hands into her lower back.
Where is he?, I ask, I have to give him his suitcase back.
He wants to swim in the sea, the woman says, not in the swimming pool.
I nod. She yawns and runs a hand over her taut belly.
It’s kicking, she says, it’s turning – she runs two fingers under her breasts back and forth – it’s dragging its foot here.
My father doesn’t want any children, I say. He never wanted children, he didn’t even want me.

  • Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
  • The vegetarian by Han Kang
  • Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Books with similar mood

The Well of Trapped Words

Sema Kaygusuz

The Ladies of Grace Adieu

Susanna Clarke

Such Small Hands

Andrés Barba

Chewing Gum

Mansour Bushnaf

I'm OK, I'm Pig

Kim Hyesoon

Black Juice

Margo Lanagan

Stories of Your Life and Others

Ted Chiang


Per Petterson

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives

David Eagleman

Waiting for the Night-Rowers

Roger Moulson


Daniel Kehlmann

Crushed Mexican Spiders

Tibor Fischer

Tail of the Blue Bird

Nii Ayikwei Parkes

Notes for a War Story

Gipi &nbsp

We Are Made of Diamond Stuff

Isabel Waidner

The Fall of the Stone City

Ismail Kadare

Kick the Animal Out

Veronique Ovalde

Karloff's Circus

Steve Aylett

A Lone Walk

Gul Y Davis


Luke Kennard


Luke Kennard

White is for Witching

Helen Oyeyemi

Heads We Win

Amy Gdala

Confession of a Murderer Told in One Night

Joseph Roth

Scenes from the Life of a Best-selling Author

Michael Kruger

The Last Children of Tokyo

Yoko Tawada


Moniza Alvi


Will Eaves

Fever Dream

Samanta Schweblin

Loop of Jade

Sarah Howe

Twisted Truths: Stories from the Irish

Brian Ó Conchubhair (ed)

One More for the Road

Ray Bradbury

Not the End of the World

Kate Atkinson

We the Animals

Justin Torres


Nicholas Royle

The Reverse Side of Life

Lee Seung-U

Hotel World

Ali Smith

Fly Already

Etgar Keret

I am the Brother of XX

Fleur Jaeggy

Faces in the Crowd

Valeria Luiselli

Sleight of Hand

Peter S Beagle

The Invention of Dr Cake

Andrew Motion

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England

Brock Clarke

You Should Have Left

Daniel Kehlmann

Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals

Patricia Lockwood


Sarah Jackson

Good Offices

Evelio Rosero

The Portrait

Iain Pears


Taichi Yamada