Lydia Millet’s Mermaids in Paradise

Mermaids in ParadiseI think mermaids are the hot new thing. In addition to this, I read and enjoyed J. Kathleen Cheney’s The Golden City in the spring, reviewed Jennifer Donnelly’s Deep Blue (Waterfire Saga #1) early on in my blog, and have Ally Condie’s Atlantia sitting on my shelf for next year. Also, coincidentally I watched the 1980s rom-com film Splash with Tom Hanks while reading this book and The Little Mermaid was on as I’m writing this review. So maybe mermaids are just “in” in my head.

Speaking of, for Lydia Millet’s Mermaids in Paradise, we’re in the head of sarcastic, high-powered businesswoman Deb, beginning in the run-up to Deb’s cool California wedding to Chip, a laid-back, outgoing charmer. After intense negotiation that may be insulting to Middle Americans, the newlyweds decided to go to the Caribbean for their honeymoon, where their vacation is interrupted by a marine biologist who insists she has found mermaids. Natural adventurer Chip eagerly tags along on the quest to find them, while Deb follows dutifully, reluctant to let her new husband go off alone. When the mermaids are found, much to their surprise, they must rally together with a rag-tag band of tourists, including an ex-Navy seal, a Japanese blogging celebrity, and a kooky old married couple, to protect the new species from the greedy hotel corporation who wants to capture them as prized attractions.

(Spoiler Alert)

Deb takes a little getting used to, as she comes off as slightly bitchy and more than slightly alcoholic; however, Chip is a winner from the start and their couple dynamic quickly won me over. Plus the couple that adventures together stays together? And boy, is this an adventure! I didn’t really expect it to go the way it did with the marine biologist Nancy being murdered, Deb being kidnapped, the militia and bombs everywhere. It stretches plausibility at times, but what can you expect from a book about mermaids. Yet the titular mermaids were hardly present and never given their own voice – instead, the narrative voiced a human concern for a rapidly declining environment, disgust about rampant commercialization, and a reverent appreciation for nature. This poignancy belied the obvious satire of the plot, but somehow the extremes worked well together.

For much of the book, this was an engrossing, uniquely enjoyable read, with murder and mayhem in addition to mermaids. However, the ending was really confusing (wtf random asteroid) and left me with an unsettled-in-a-bad-way feeling, which I find frequently happens in fiction. I wish Millet had ended it instead with the mermaids riding the whales off into the sunset. Still it was an amusing pick as I gear up for my own Caribbean vacation!

3.5 Stars



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