Mermaids in the Basement

Michael Lee West, Author
Michael Lee West, Author . Harper $23.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-060-18405-6
Reviewed on: 09/24/2007
Release date: 01/01/2008

Ripe with Southern charm and sultry atmosphere, West's diverting and funny latest unravels the tangled gossamer web of an eccentric extended Southern family. At the heart of the novel is Renata DeChavannes, who has a pretty full plate: a tabloid ran a story about her longtime film director boyfriend's possible on-set fling with an actress; her mother and step-father died in a plane crash five months ago; her father is about to marry his fourth wife (a squeaky-voiced young thang named Joie); and she's just found a letter written by her mother instructing her to ferret out her mother's “dirty secrets.” So Renata heads to her Gulf Coast Alabama hometown, where her indomitable grandmother Honora DeChavannes; steadfast former nanny Gladys Boudreax; and Honora's longtime friend and former actress, Isabella D'Agostina McGeehee, live. The story flies by, loaded with grand parties, sumptuous Southern meals, multiple affairs and harrowing calamities. West's storytelling talent shines when she's following around the fiery belles, though she has trouble getting convincingly into the head of Renata's father, Louie, and the profusion of subplots can feel overwhelming. On the whole, it's a joyride, if a sometimes bumpy one. (Jan.)

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