The Mermaid Chair
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Publisher: Penquin Books
Paperback Edition: 332 Pages, with Reading Group Guide
Jessie Sullivan, the woman at the center of this story, comes to an important conclusion in the midst of her life’s journey, one with unexpected twists and turns. “I had come to the irreducible thing, just as I had with my father, and there was nothing to do but accept, to learn to accept, to lie down every night and accept. Jessie goes to an island off the coast of South Carolina, the place she grew up, to assist her estranged mother. In doing so she discovers her own estrangement from life. Living with her through her discoveries and reconnections, a reader may discover his or her own new truths and connections.
Sue Monk Kidd, whose first novel The Secret Life of Bees created quite a stir, has continued to woo readers. This past year many of us were happily reading her latest, The Invention of Wings, a book with heart and history, loosely based on the Grimke sisters, early abolitionists from South Carolina. She published The Mermaid’s Chair in 2005, but this spring when visiting the Book Loft in Fernandina Beach a staff member offered it in response to my query about what fiction on the paperback table had she read and considered very good. Turns out it is quite a contrast to The Invention of Wings. Reading those two in a span of only a few weeks showed me the versatility of this author.
One might be classified as realistic fiction, and one as historical fiction. The Mermaid’s Chair is quite imaginative, yet grounded in the beautiful surroundings of a coastal island in the southeast. Monk is masterful at creating that environment. The magical environment seems right for a magical story. Though it may be realistic fiction or literary fiction, the story contains highly unusual elements.
This story has much to say about mid-life, marriage, family and personal identify. Monk does not shy away from the dark side of life, or the divine. The story lead me to wonder just what hearts are for? How do we handle our passions for people and for life’s endeavors? Sometimes it is hard to bring our lives into focus.
I leave you to read the book, and puzzle out the meaning of the mermaid chair as a central image in the novel. It’s all part of the magical environment that brings both wildness and sanctuary to this story.