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Portable Magic

Reading, for me, is entertainment and an escape from the real world. But it can also inform and stretch the boundaries of the life I live.

Currently reading

The Bungalow Mystery
P.M. Carlson, Russell H. Tandy, Carolyn Keene
The Remains of the Day
Kazuo Ishiguro, Simon Prebble
Duel of Eagles: The Mexican and U.S. Fight for the Alamo
Jeff Long
Progress: 11/431 pages
The Secret of Shadow Ranch
Carolyn Keene
I am No One You Know
Joyce Carol Oates
The Return of the King
J.R.R. Tolkien, Rob Inglis
Progress: 13 %

The Mermaid Chair ★★★☆☆

The Mermaid Chair - Sue Monk Kidd

I didn't enjoy this book much, but it forced me, when I thought about the characters, to examine my own feelings. This is the story of a woman who goes middle-aged crazy and runs off on her husband, who is not perfect but has been a steady, reliable man who loves her completely. She takes advantage of the opportunity afforded by the need to "care" for her mother, who seems to have really gone crazy and has started chopping off her own fingers. She tells her husband, who is a psychiatrist, to butt out, and instead of getting her mother some psychiatric care, she leaves her either at home alone or with her friends and spends all her time in the marshes, painting pictures and banging one of the junior monks from the local monastery. They fall in "love" and get naked after about three conversations.


I didn't like the MC. I thought she was selfish and cowardly, and I empathized more with the bewildered and hurt husband who, nevertheless, kept going to work and paying the bills and being generally responsible while the MC was off playing in the surf and "finding herself" and repelling his attempts to discuss their marriage by picking a fight every time they talked. Yet the MC owns it. She acknowledges what she's done even while trying to make excuses for it, although she tended to describe it as "the damage" and I was never clear whether she regretted the pain she'd inflicted or just the damage to her relationships that she had to deal with later. She certainly doesn't seem to regret her actions and seems to feel it was necessary and worthwhile.


In examining my own feelings about the MC and her actions, I have to admit that the course of action I wanted her to take - to simply have an honest conversation with her husband, to confront her mother about her mental health, to reach out to her angry daughter - is more difficult than it sounds. For some people, confrontation is hard, and someone who is not practiced in it may be unable to find even the words within herself. It can be easier to let a troubled relationship go rather than thrash out the problems. I have trouble confronting the people I love, too.


The more serious problems I had with this book: There were some cheats, I thought.

The author mitigated the affair by setting up the junior monk as not really committed to either his faith or to his vows, but also simply using it as an escape from regular life. The MC doesn't seem to really have any consequences to deal with. Her husband only makes a token resistance when she comes back to him and she speaks patronizingly of the damage as fleeting moments of jealousy and insecurity that she has to reassure him out of. Her daughter just changes her college major. Her mother is magically healed by admitting her deep dark secret. She benefits from the entire affair with a new independence and a thriving art career.

(show spoiler)


So, in the end, bleh. I don't think the story had anything new to say, and the big mystery with her mother fell a little flat for me. It was interesting and well written enough to finish, but unsatisfying.


Audiobook version, borrowed from my public library. Eliza Foss's excellent performance probably elevated the book a bit.