Thursday, September 10, 2015
Book Review: My Life As a Mermaid
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended to readers who like to see themselves in the stories they are reading
Released: June 2015
If you're here looking for a story collection that is full of charming, dreams-really-do-come-true anecdotes, you can stop right there. Jen Grow's debut is about as anti-happy-endings as it gets.
Within these stories, you'll find yourself face to face with people who have become victims of their choices. A verbally abusive and emotionally detached mother loses custody of her daughters, and has to live with each horrible little memory as she cleans up after them in "What Little Girls Leave Behind". After watching her die day after day, a daughter shares a stolen moment on the bathroom floor with her just-now-deceased mother in "Small Deaths". A married woman lounges at the hotel pool with her boring lover in "Stray". In the title story, a mother and wife struggles with her life of privilege as her sister sends postcards from Honduras where she's volunteering to aid the sick and the poor.
Jen's characters are suspended in a state of tedium. Unhappy couples float through their days in a daze. Wives pretend the lives they are living belong to someone who isn't them. Ice cream is eaten by the gallon to sate a broken heart. Blenders mix drinks by the dozen to drown out the lies. No one seems to fit their perception of themselves. They don't seem to know how they ended up where they are and they can't be bothered to try to escape it. They are in denial. They are stuck and unhappy.
In stories that are both tough and tender, Jen pushes each of her characters to the very edge of the precipice. And in each case, we find the protagonists pushing back. Though their lives are not what they expected them to be, they are determined to keep moving forward, wherever that may lead them. They are not completely lost, not entirely without will. They are far from being broken by their circumstances. And because of this, Jen's collection never weighs too heavily on its readers. We are hopeful for her mothers and wives and sisters. As their stories come to an end, we are left believing that it is the not the end for them, not by a long shot.
A wonderful debut that explores what life looks like when it's lived in, when the shine wears off and the makeup starts to run.