Published by Touchstone ISBN 978-145167824
Trade paperback, $14.99, 342 pages
What initially appealed to me about this novel was its Brooklyn setting. Jenny Lipkin is married to Harry, a man who works for his family's failing candy supply business. They have two daughters, preschooler Betty and baby Rose.
They live in a cramped (but expensive) Park Slope walk-up, and they seem to argue a lot. Harry has a gambling problem and feels he is meant to do better things. One day Harry calls and says he is stopping to get cigarettes and doesn't return. Jenny is a little worried, but to be honest, Harry has done this before; gone on a gambling binge, and returned flush with enough money to buy off Jenny's anger.
But this time feels diferent. Harry's brother and mother seem to be more worried than usual, and there is money missing from the business. Jenny is angry, but she has two girls to care for, and has to figure out a way to make ends meet without Harry's sales commissions coming in.
Jenny takes the kids to the park everyday, where she hangs out with her good friend Laura and Laura's daughter while they swoon over Sam the Cute Dad, whom all of the mommies have a crush on. The playground scenes are so real, and as I pass the city playgrounds and parks I see these women and wonder what it is like to raise young children in the city. Thanks to Shearn, I now have some insight.
I had two children 18 months apart, and Shearn expertly captures the claustrophobia of two young children and a mom stuck inside. Trying to keep them fed, entertained, bathed and put to bed is exhausting, let alone doing in in a tiny, hot apartment with toys everywhere.
One day, Jenny reaches the breaking point. She makes a bad decision, and this is where it gets really interesting. Jenny is saved by a mermaid, a rusalka as they are known in the Slavic fairy tales that Jenny studied.
This mermaid now inhabits Jenny's body along with Jenny, and she is ready to have some fun. She encourages Jenny to get her act together, and to go after Sam the Cute Dad because the mermaid wants to have sex. The interaction between Jenny and the mermaid provides much of the humor in the story.
Jenny does get her act together, and finds that she is really good at sewing, starting a home business copying fancy boutique dresses for the other, wealthier Park Slope mommies. She is at odds with her husband's family, although her relationship with Harry's mother Sylvia improves as Sylvia comes to help with the children.
The Mermaid of Brooklyn is a story that combines some hard truths about marriage and motherhood with a splash of a fairy tale. There is some question as to whether the mermaid truly exists or is something that Jenny conjured in her mind to help her deal with her husband's desertion, and the fact that Jenny had some emotional issues in the past feeds into that speculation. It is up to reader to ultimately decide.
Shearn takes us inside not only this intriguing woman Jenny's mind and apartment, but also the unique world of Park Slope. Everyone there feels pressure to keep up, and we go inside the various haunts- Two Little Red Hens bakery, Donuts diner and of course, beautiful Prospect Park, where much of the action takes place.
Don't overlook the Q&A section at the end where Shearn gives the origins of her story and characters.
It took a awhile to get into this book, but once I did, I was hooked on Jenny's story. It is a smart, sparkling and well-written novel that captured my heart and my mind.
rating 4 of 5
Amy Shearn's website, Amy Shearn Writes is here.
Other stops on the TLC Tour of The Mermaid of Brooklyn are listed below.
Wednesday, April 10th: A Bookish Affair
Thursday, April 11th: Literate Housewife
Friday, April 12th: Books on the Brain – Friday First Lines guest post
Monday, April 15th: Literally Jen
Tuesday, April 16th: 5 Minutes for Books
Wednesday, April 17th: BookNAround
Thursday, April 18th: The Five Borough Book Review
Monday, April 22nd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Tuesday, April 23rd: Good Girl Gone Redneck
Wednesday, April 24th: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, April 25th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Friday, April 26th: Books a la Mode – guest post/giveaway
Monday, April 29th: the smitten word
Tuesday, April 30th: girlichef
Friday, May 3rd: Starting Fresh