Mini-Review: The Mermaid Girl: A Story, Erika Swyler (2016)

May 27th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

A short prequel story to The Book of Speculation.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ebook for review through NetGalley.)

The problem with stealing the magician’s assistant from a carnival was that you were always waiting for her to disappear. […]

The problem with marrying the mermaid girl from the carnival was knowing that one day she’d swim away.

— 3.5 stars —

Simon and his younger sister Enola were just kids when their mother drowned. A former circus performer – a mermaid, in fact – Paulina bid her children farewell one day, walked the steps from their crumbling, 1700s colonial house down to the beach, and continued right on into the Atlantic Ocean.

Years later, Simon – now a librarian at Napawset library – comes into possession of a mysterious ledger dating back to the 1700s. His grandmother’s name, written all the way in the back, sets him on a journey through his family’s past – seemingly set on a collision course with Enola’s future. Simon makes a sinister discovery: all of the women in his matrilineal line die. They die young, but not before having a daughter; they die of drowning, even though all are mermaids; and they die of apparent suicides, even where no clear history of mental illness exists. Most shockingly of all, they all perish in the same way on the same day: July 24th.

The story begins in late June, and Enola has just announced that she’s returning home after a six-year absence.

A prequel to Erika Swyler’s The Book of Speculation, The Mermaid Girl: A Story offers us a glimpse of the Watson family before it broke apart. Simon is six years old (and already hoarding books); Enola is a newborn (and a metaphorical bomb like her namesake); Paulina is torn in two by her love for her family and her restless, wandering spirit; and Daniel is fighting desperately to hold onto the girl he stole from the carnival. It’s a lovely, melancholy story; pretty much what you’d expect for Paulina and Daniel given the events of The Book of Speculation.

Occasionally I’ll find a prequel story that stands completely on its own – just as wonderful and complete out of context – but The Mermaid Girl isn’t one of them: you should definitely read The Book of Speculation first, otherwise you risk missing out on the story’s nuances and callbacks.

Though I enjoyed the story, it’s a little on the short side. I found myself wanting to know more, especially of Paulina’s childhood, her relationship with her parents, and her upbringing in the circus/carnival. The scenes with Michel Lareille – her surrogate father/grandfather and the owner of Lareille, where she performed – are as wonderful as her recollections of her father are heartbreaking.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)


Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Michel Lareille – Paulina’s surrogate father/grandfather and the owner of Lareille, the circus-turned-carnival where she grew up – is gay.

Animal-friendly elements: n/a


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