Mermaids in Paradise
I honestly can't remember the last time a book made me laugh as hard as the first 50 pages of Lydia Millet's MERMAIDS IN PARADISE did. Deb, the alternately self-absorbed, hypercritical and clueless narrator, and her new husband Chip are, for better or for worse, perfect for each other. Even before they embark on the honeymoon from hell, readers will know they're in the hands of a comic genius once they immerse themselves in Millet's unique and hilarious brand of humor.
Deb is the breadwinner of the couple, a formerly aspiring singer-songwriter who abandoned her artistic ambitions in favor of an MBA and a corner office. She helps support the hobbies of her fiancé, Chip, which include participating in Spartan-style extreme road races. Deb might drink a little more than is good for her (perhaps especially while she's ostensibly cheering for Chip from the sidelines), but otherwise she is happy with her life and looking forward to their upcoming honeymoon in the British Virgin Islands, a destination the couple did not decide upon lightly: "Chip yearned for daring exploits; I didn't so much yearn as just not want to have any."
"I honestly can't remember the last time a book made me laugh as hard as the first 50 pages of Lydia Millet's MERMAIDS IN PARADISE did.... a roaringly hilarious yet genuinely thoughtful story, one that will have readers laughing aloud at lines and situations that are, at times, painfully funny."
Deb, therefore, vetoes Chip's hopes for "volcano bicycle camping, snowshoeing on glaciers, ruined Cambodian temples." Instead, they wind up at a thoroughly conventional Caribbean resort, where Chip's greatest hope for adventure is the prospect of encountering vacationing denizens of the Heartland: "The Middle Americans are resolute, Chip thinks, living by choice in that vast featureless space, that oddly irrelevant no-man's land." At dinner the first night, Chip and Deb do indeed encounter some Middle Americans; they also meet a marine biologist whose acquaintance leads them into more daring exploits than any Chip would have dreamed up on his own.
On a seemingly routine snorkeling excursion, Nancy, the marine biologist, swears she encounters a mermaid; Chip soon corroborates her story, and things just start getting weirder from there. Soon our honeymooners find themselves at the center of a plot involving a multinational corporation, a retired Navy SEAL, a kidnapping, a Japanese Internet celebrity, and a host of other shenanigans.
Throughout, much of the humor is broadcast through Deb's singular, self-centered voice. Even as the passionate mermaid defenders are being threatened by a group of armed soldiers, Deb's biggest concern is that she's being videotaped wearing a borrowed muumuu while her hair looks like a fright wig. Some readers may find themselves wishing for more of the kind of caustic commentaries that characterize Deb's narration at the opening of the novel. Once the plot gets underway, the tone changes somewhat, and her self-delusion takes a backseat to the absurd story developing in front of her.
MERMAIDS IN PARADISE can be read as a satire about environmental activism, ecotourism, and even the modern wedding-honeymoon industrial complex. But it doesn't have to be --- it's also just a roaringly hilarious yet genuinely thoughtful story, one that will have readers laughing aloud at lines and situations that are, at times, painfully funny.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on November 7, 2014
Mermaids in Paradise
- Publication Date: November 3, 2014
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
- ISBN-10: 0393245624
- ISBN-13: 9780393245622