cover image The Mermaid of Brooklyn

The Mermaid of Brooklyn

Amy Shearn. S&S/Touchstone, $14.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-4516-7828-4

As this whimsical modern-day fable from Shearn (How Far is the Ocean From Here) begins, Jenny Lipkin is living in a small apartment in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., and juggling two children and a husband, Harry, addicted to gambling. One day, Harry tells her that he’s going out for cigarettes and never returns. Distraught, Jenny considers suicide, only to accidentally fall off the Brooklyn Bridge instead. While underwater, she meets a Russian mermaid, or rusalka, who saves her life but also possesses her. Fired with purpose by the mythical creature, Jenny begins a new career as a seamstress and pursues the stay-at-home dad next door. When Harry returns, however, Jenny must decide for herself who she really wants to be. There’s no doubt that Shearn is gifted, crafting quirky and charming prose, as well as a protagonist who’s articulately and believably ambivalent about motherhood. The mermaid, however, comes across as a needlessly fantastic overlay on a realistic story, while Harry’s reappearance rings false. Shearn deftly paints her novel’s familiar (at least to New Yorkers) setting, but she seems less certain of what to do with her plot. Agent: P.J. Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. (Apr.)