Author: Elizabeth Fama
Publication Date: 9/4/12
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Blurb(GR): Fierce, seductive mermaid Syrenka falls in love with Ezra, a young naturalist. When she abandons her life underwater for a chance at happiness on land, she is unaware that this decision comes with horrific and deadly consequences.
Almost one hundred forty years later, seventeen-year-old Hester meets a mysterious stranger named Ezra and feels overwhelmingly, inexplicably drawn to him. For generations, love has resulted in death for the women in her family. Is it an undiagnosed genetic defect . . . or a curse? With Ezra’s help, Hester investigates her family’s strange, sad history. The answers she seeks are waiting in the graveyard, the crypt, and at the bottom of the ocean—but powerful forces will do anything to keep her from uncovering her connection to Syrenka and to the tragedy of so long ago.
Those two stars down there are for the mermaids, which ironically were the main reason I felt hesitant to read this. But damn if the author didn’t deliver on the mermaids. These ladies are creepy, clawed, razor-toothed monsters capable of twisted magic. The prologue of this book, wherein the mermaid Syrenka tries to make love to the man she’s been watching for months and then accidentally kills him, had me completely enthralled.
And then the story flashed forward by a few hundred years and Hester showed up. Hester lost my sympathy almost immediately. Poor, poor Hester. Every woman in her maternal line dies shortly after giving birth, and so Hester has decided that she needs to be alone, forever and ever. She can’t possibly have a relationship of any kind, because obviously there is no easily available and reliable form of birth control. And obviously, it’s impossible to have a relationship with someone without your respective gametes coming into contact. And she can’t ever have a child so why date? Because that is in fact the sole purpose of dating. Poor Hester likes her best friend Peter, but he never notices her. And he shows his complete disdain for her presence by talking to her, worrying about her feelings, flirting with her, and presenting her with thoughtful gifts. Poor Hester can’t have anything in this horrible, horrible world.
And so, after discovering a silverfish in one of her books, flashing back to an odd incident 10 years ago involving a ton of silverfish, and attending church for the first time in a decade, Hester decides that she absolutely needs to solve the mystery of some possible deaths and/or hauntings at said church. Because that makes complete sense. She then throws herself into the mystery, avoiding friends and family, breaking laws, and putting her life in danger where necessary to solve it. After all, a century old mystery ABSOLUTELY NEEDS to be solved during the calendar week that you randomly decide to start investigating it. I’m almost certain that’s in the protocol.
Too bad we readers are not in charge of solving this thing because I’m pretty sure we’d have it all wrapped up in about 20 pages, given the number of textual clues. But no…instead we get to wait around for Hester to try and figure things out. And then when she never figures anything out, we get to wait for her to be led by the hand to the solutions. And then wait for everything to be explained in detail so she finally, FINALLY gets it.
At least her parents are the most absentee parents of all time, so they aren’t around to get in the way. And at least all the villains and even some of the minor side characters are one-dimensional evil brutes, so, by comparison, Hester seems almost sympathetic (but no…no). Her friend Peter, the heartless cad, seems more than willing to forgive her anyway, for brushing him off, treating him like dirt, outright lying to him, belittling his concerns, and flaunting her love for another man. And by “love” I, of course, mean “deep and sudden attachment to a person she’s only met once and barely knows.”
And yeah, the whole instant attraction thing does sort of make sense once you know what’s going on…but that isn’t until the end of the book and in the mean time you have to deal with Hester carelessly tossing away all of her tightly held values in a matter of minutes, for some random dude who lives in a cave. And yeah, maybe the whole instant interest in the mystery thing makes some sense once you read the ending too, but in the mean time you have to deal with Hester appearing to be more dense than New England fog. It’s hard to swallow.
However, one thing that’s clear is that this author loves research, which lends a lot of atmosphere to the historical parts but is sometimes a bit too apparent, such as when the narrator randomly stops to explain why a flask of whiskey would remain fresh for a century right before Hester takes a swig (an action which has almost nothing to do with the plot). She also has a great imagination. I enjoyed the fantasy elements more than anything else and I might actually be sort of interested in reading something from Fama that’s a strict fantasy. Probably not, though. I did not enjoy this book. If you’re looking for a haunting story with depth and a paranormal twist, I would read Margo Lanagan’s The Brides of Rollrock Island instead.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Avril Lavigne – I’m With You