It took me a long time to buy this book, and an even longer time to read it. I kept reading the description, and I didn’t like it at all. But it kept popping up on the “recommended for you” list on Amazon, and I had this inner feeling that I was meant to read it, even if I didn’t particularly care to.
After treating myself to Leon and Bowen, I thought now was the time.
At first I found The Mermaid Chair a little Anne Rivers Siddon-ish – and I like Anne Rivers Siddons, and I don’t like imitations, which this felt like. And I thought to myself “Anne Rivers Siddons does it better.”
I kept reading, though. The book was intriguing, and I wanted to know what happened next.
Sue Monk Kidd wrote another book I really liked called The Secret Life of Bees in which I learned a lot about bees, and found the story wonderfully redemptive.
Sue Monk Kidd and Anne Rivers Siddons also share a love of the mystical, and the mystical in religion, and the mystical in human relationships, and the mystical in the sisterhood of women, all of which I find fascinating, and parts of which I would like to believe myself.
In this book, there is a lot going on. The main character is feeling stagnant and small, and invisible in her marriage. Her daughter has left for college, and she is oddly unable to find things in life to interest her. Then, her mother cuts off her finger, her mother’s friends call her to come to Egret Island, and she finds herself suddenly caught up in a whirlwind of emotions and torments that she can barely understand.
She has avoided returning to her Egret Island home to avoid the pain of her father’s death when she was 12, and her mother’s decent into moodiness and madness. She returns, meets a monk and falls in love, copes badly with her mother’s demons, and fights her way through her own personal crisis.
Sue Monk Kidd makes it all work. The work floats with artistic references; Gaugain, Matisse, Chagall, their mysterious, delightful women in particular float throught this book in Mermaid guises, and our heroine, Jessie Sullivan, discovers her own mermaid-within.
I won’t say that this is the best book I have ever read – it isn’t. I will say that I loved reading it. I loved the feel of living on Egret Island, with the tides and the birds and the small town friends, the local dog, the raininess and windiness of it all. I feel like I was there. I know the graveyard, I know the winding paths, I know those little golf carts everyone uses to get around. I know what it’s like to have to take a ferry to get to the mainland, I know the tidal currents of life’s more overwhelming moments.
As our Jessie binds her marriage back together, she says this:
Each day we pick our way through unfamiliar terrain. Hugh and I did not resume our old marriage – that was never what I wanted, and it was not what Hugh wanted either – rather we laid it aside and began a whole new one. Our love is not the same. It feels both young and old to me. It feels wise, as an old woman is wise after a long life, but also fresh and tender, something we must cradle and protect. We have become closer in some ways, the pain we experienced weaving tenacious lines of intimacy, but there is a separateness as well, the necessary distance. . . . .
I tell him, smiling, that it was the mermaids who brought me home. I mean, to the water and the mud and the pull of the tides in my own body. To the solitary island submerged so long in myself, which I desperately needed to find. But I also try to explain they brought me home to him. I’m not sure he understands any more than I do how belonging to myself allows me to belong more truly to him. I just know it’s true.”
This is a good read. It’s worth its reputation, it’s worth picking up and reading through. While some might think it’s very much a chick book, I suspect men reading it might also find a lot with which to identify. You can find this book at Amazon.com (disclosure: yes, I own shares in Amazon) for about $11.20.