A dreamy, semi-historical novel from Carter (The Orange Blossom Special, 2005, etc.) about a young girl who becomes a performing mermaid at the Weeki Wachee Springs, Fla., tourist venue, in 1970, just as Disney World is cornering the state’s tourism market.
Two years after her father Roy abandons the family, Delores Walker is living in the Bronx with her adored baby brother Westie and their hardworking but embittered mother Gail. For Delores, who has always loved swimming, a trip to watch the mermaid show at Weeki Wachee when she was nine remains a magical memory of family happiness. So at 16 she makes her way to Florida and is soon a star among the performing mermaids. Having all come to Weeki Wachee after being misfits in the real world, the mermaid girls bond into an informal family under the tutelage of tough but loving Thelma Foote. Struggling to keep her clientele as Disney World’s popularity soars, Thelma strikes a deal with a local TV station to use Delores as a weather girl. When Delores saves a child from drowning on-air during a hurricane, she becomes a national celebrity. Roy, who has found peace and his own sense of belonging while working with animals at Hanratty’s Circus outside nearby Sarasota, sees Delores on TV and hesitantly contacts her. They end up working together when Hanratty and Thelma join forces to establish a hugely successful business. Meanwhile, Gail has found a mentor at the magazine where she cleans offices at night. While taking a secretarial course to improve her career options, she reluctantly lets Westie visit Florida, where he joins Delores’s act. When Gail comes to pick up Westie, all four Walkers reunite as a family, at least briefly. Each has found the means to redemption, forgiveness and love.
Heavy on sweet eccentricity and uplift, but what could be a better beach read than mermaids beating Mickey Mouse at his own game.