A cautionary tale of suburban life by debut author Marren.
As the novel opens, artist Lainie Smith Morris is telling her four children the tale of the selkie, a mythic woman, half-human and half-seal, who's locked into human form when her seal skin is stolen by a fisherman who wants her to marry him; her human children are her only consolation. Themes from the fable are prominently placed: Lainie wants water “like a vampire wants blood” and, ad infinitum, cites proximity to bodies of water as necessary for her survival. Her surgeon husband won her by buying the masterpiece of her burgeoning art career, and when he moves them from Manhattan's Riverside Drive to Elliot, New Jersey—a fictional, landlocked Stepford suburb—she hardly resists. Her 12-year-old daughter believes Lainie is a selkie and frets she’ll swim away forever—a forced-seeming concern for a girl who otherwise appears quite adult. Lainie reassures her that she won’t leave but rarely that she isn’t a selkie, leaving the matter, along with much of the novel, opaque. Half the passages are narrated by Jess, Lainie’s frenemy from way back, now queen of the Elliot scene, who involves herself in Lainie’s life, giving and taking away equally. The novel is moody and despairing, the writing poetic and abstract, the women cleareyed yet complacent about their constricted lives and horrible husbands. They make declarations about present circumstances that are not supported by past revelations; both claim to love their families, but there’s very little evidence. Marren has an irksome habit of writing exposition as stilted dialogue. With characters as unreliable as these, everything is left in question.
To follow the theme, there's a depth of feeling here but the writing is adrift.