Sunday, February 22, 2015

Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet

I fall hard for a good narrator and the voice is outstanding in Lydia Millet's satirical Mermaids in Paradise. The book flap description sets the scene: "On the grounds of a Caribbean island resort, newlyweds Deb and Chip--our opinionated, skeptical narrator and her cheerful jock husband--meet a marine biologist who says she's sighted mermaids in a coral reef."

In the first section of the novel, Chip comes up with all kinds of adventurous destinations for their upcoming honeymoon, and Deb vetoes each one in a kindly manner. For example, the "Peaks of the Himalayas" voyage, "with visits to monasteries, meditations and nosebleeds from the lack of oxygen up there. [...] The inner peace a monk projects, combined with never having sex, I don't know if that attitude is really honeymoon material. [...] I'll take a pass on that serenity, I said to Chip, I'm just not in the mood for it."

At the resort, everything gets crazy after mermaids are spotted. I'm going to blank out a bit in the next passage in order to avoid spoilers, while still giving you a sense of Deb's voice and the action of the plot. She's approached at the door of her cabana and asked to accompany some people to a meeting.

   "I found myself jostled and forced away from ____, surrounded by a wall of men.
   At that point I considered making a scene, even yelling/screaming. But that's where my personality got in the way, my personality that, especially as I got older, I hadn't worried about so much. I'm not a screamer, never have been, and it turned out this situation was no exception to the rule. The idea of screaming seemed foolish. Here we were in a Caribbean resort. What was the worst that could happen? Then I caught sight of ____ and thought of ____, but still the scream stuck in my throat."

The characters are all larger-than-life, yet so believable at the same time. Millet adeptly gets at the truth of how we obsess about ourselves and how we relate to other people.

Mermaids in Paradise is a dark and funny story about greed and altruism: human nature at its worst and best. Millet's style is exhilarating and fresh. I adored this book.

Readalikes with comic voice: Come, Thou Tortoise (Jessica Grant); The Blondes (Emily Schultz); and The Death of Bees (Lisa O'Donnell). Also, Beauty Queens (Libba Bray) - for the satire and island adventure.

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