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The Mermaid of Brooklyn
by Amy Shearn

After leaving her job as a magazine editor to become a stay-at-home mom, Jenny has had trouble adjusting. She’s constantly worried over her inadequacies as a mother and the fact that her children aren’t as perfect as those of her friends. When her husband, Harry, disappears one evening and doesn’t return home, Jenny is almost too busy to notice. But as the days turn to weeks, she begins to realize that her husband, a compulsive gambler, may never be returning home. As his business fails and money dries up, she begins to despair. Unable to cope with her depression and the many challenges life has thrown her, Jenny nearly ends it all – only to be saved by a mermaid, a rusalka, whose spirit takes up residence in Jenny’s body so that she can experience life as a human. Jenny’s fishy new friend helps Jenny ground herself once more, but her return payment may be more than Jenny is willing to give.

Ariel from Disney’s The Little Mermaid, the rusalka is not. A rusalka is a vengeful mermaid, often a ghost of a woman who died in childbirth, or committed suicide after being jilted by a lover. Most depictions that I’ve seen of them reject the traditional mermaid tail, but Shearn chooses to keep one for her supernatural creature. The rusalka remains enigmatic, even when she’s sharing Jenny’s body. We never learn her name or her origins, but I’m glad the mystery is preserved. There are enough hints about the unpleasantness of her former life and her eagerness for a new chance at being a woman to make you doubt that she always has Jenny’s interests in mind, but this slight aura of menace just makes the rusalka that much more interesting.

At its heart, the story is less about the supernatural and more about the simple struggles of being a 21st century mother. At the beginning of the novel, Jenny is obviously wrestling with undiagnosed post-partum depression, and her despair is wrenchingly realistic. When her husband disappears, of course, everything gets worse – there’s no money coming in, she has to deal with in-laws, and the longer he’s gone the more her older daughter starts acting out. It’s little wonder that Jenny nearly breaks. Although she would at times annoy me – Jenny can be a little whiny and obsessive – I always felt sympathetic towards her, because I knew that if I were suddenly thrust in a similar situation I could very well react as she did. Or worse.

One of the more touching things I’ve learned about the novel is that it’s loosely based on Shearn’s great-grandmother, Jenny Lipkin. This Jenny, too, had a gambling husband and once nearly took her own life in a bout of depression. What saved the historical Jenny was a beautiful pair of shoes – as she prepared to jump, she looked down at the beautiful, custom-fitted pair of boots she was wearing and realized that, gosh darn it, she didn’t want anyone stealing her shoes after she was dead. So she went back home, carried on, and eventually came to America and became known in her neighborhood for her expert tailoring. It’s a great family story, and with Amy Shearn’s clever touches it’s now a fabulous and magical novel.

4 out of 5 stars

To read more about The Mermaid of Brooklyn, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: The Royal Historian of Oz by Tommy Kovac and Andy Hirsch
2011: Fashionista Piranha will be on hiatus for a while…
2010: Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner
2009: A Lion Among Men (Wicked #3) by Gregory Maguire


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