A woman drowning in self-pity and depression takes a plunge but manages to stay afloat with the help of a mermaid in this second novel by aquatic-obsessed Shearn (How Far is the Ocean from Here, 2008).
Jenny Lipkin’s life consists of breast-feeding her infant daughter, idle chitchat with other mothers in the park, trips to the store, a home in disarray, walking the dog and lots of Cheerios. Husband Harry works at his family-owned candy company, which isn’t doing too well, given current health trends and, perhaps, his mismanagement. When he fails to return home one evening, and $1,000 is missing from the company’s account, Jenny, a frazzled mess to begin with, becomes even more unwound. She’s angry with her husband, who’s a compulsive gambler, but she’s not all that concerned for his well-being; being left to cope with finances, her daughters and her mother-in-law is enough to drive her over the edge. Sinking further into a long-occurring depression, she dons a great looking pair of shoes and decides to jump off a bridge. But at the last minute, she glances at the shoes and, loathing the thought of another woman wearing them, changes her mind. Too late, she loses her balance, and into the water she goes; but instead of drowning, she’s rescued by a mermaid, a rusalka of Slavic lore, who then inhabits Jenny’s body and helps her turn her life around. Jenny cleans house, both literally and figuratively. Shearn’s narrative is delightfully manic and extremely witty at times, but the very elements that make parts of this book so pleasurable also become slightly monotonous toward the end: Jenny is a bit too consumed with her colicky kids, lactating breasts and relationships with family, friends and Harry.
Nevertheless, the author possesses a gift for infusing a mundane situation (an abandoned housewife) with the implausible (a mermaid) and building a story that many readers will find intuitive, clever and, on many levels, perfectly believable.