” If I had not read the cover story in the March 2, 2000, National Enquirer, it’s doubtful that I would have gone to Alabama and ruined my daddy’s engagement party, much less sent the bride-to-be into a coma.”
Renata is a Hollywood script writer. Her boyfriend is a Hollywood director who is currently directing Ulysses with an actress who cannot speak English and who is known for her colorful ways. Renata thought she had a perfect life, but then everything comes apart when she reads the news in ‘National Enquirer’ suggesting that her boyfriend Fergusson has been getting cozy with his new actress. This news comes after her mom, whom she very close to, and step father die in an accident. Renata is devastated and hurt. And she does the only thing most of us would do. She goes home. Home is Point Clear, Alabama. Home is her grandmother Honora and her nanny Glady’s. Home could have also meant her father Louie, but he has been distant from her since he divorced her mother.
But Renata has one more reason for going home. She finds her mother Shelby’s letter tucked in a drawer that said it is to be opened only after her death. Shelby wants her to know certain things from her past which only Honora and Glady’s could tell.
And thus begins a tale through mysterious letters and newspaper clippings found in her mother’s trunk. Every cutting has a story, be it a party or a wedding announcement. Renata, through these cuttings, her grandmother and nanny learns things that she never thought could have been possible.
The story and the mystery unfold slowly but there wasn’t a single boring moment in the book. The characters were brought to life in a way that made me feel like I was watching a movie. Honora, Glady’s, Shelby and Isabelle (a former actress and Honora’s best friend) are all very colorful characters in true Hollywood style. They have secrets to share and things to reveal that couldn’t be short of a soap opera.
‘Mermaids in the basement’ is more of a character based novel rather than plot based. As Renata learns of new secrets everyday, the reader also learns new facets of every character and makes you feel like you know them so well. The author creates a very ‘I feel I am right there’ atmosphere with her beautiful descriptions of different places. You can smell the food, the air which is a part of the typical Southern atmosphere.
But there is a little problem. Although it’s small I am going to mention it here. As Renata is learning the truth of her mother’s relationship with her father through memories of these women, the narration switches very frequently. Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out whether they are talking to Renata or whether they are just remembering the past. You just have to read the end of every chapter carefully to know what’s coming next.
This is my first Michael Lee West book and I am sure I am going to read more. Don’t forget to check out ’Mermaids in the basement’.
By the way, the novel also has some yummy, mouth watering recipes at the back.
Michael Lee West is the author of five novels including Crazy Ladies, Mad Girls in Love, American Pie, She Flew the Coop as well as a food memoir Consuming Passions. She lives with her husband on a farm in Lebanon, Tennessee with three bratty Yorkshire Terriers, a Chinese Crested, assorted donkeys, chickens, sheep, and African Pygmy goats. Her faithful dog Zap was the inspiration of a character in Mermaids in the Basement.