Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Mermaid Chair

By Sue Monk Kidd

Jessie has a good life. She has a loving, successful husband, a part-time job as an artist, a daughter who has recently gone off to college for the first time. But Jessie is discontented. She doesn't really know why. She sort of blames her husband, Hugh, who sometimes can be a bit dismissive.
Jessie grew up on an island off the coast of South Carolina. He dad was a boatman who died when Jessie was just a kid. Jessie grew up thinking she was partially responsible for this death. His boat exploded from a spark from the pipe Jessie had given him. So she has carried that guilt for thirty years.
After her father died, the joy went out of her mother, Nelle. Nelle was always religious, but after the death of her husband, she become even more religious.
Jessie gets a phone call that Nelle has deliberately cut off one of her fingers. Jessie returns to the island and finds her mother burying the finger next to a statue of St. Senara.
Nelle's house is next door to the abbey of St. Senara and she works in the kitchen as their cook. St. Senara is a mermaid who used to seduce Christians but was later converted. The abbey has a chair called the Mermaid Chair which is carved with a mermaid or mermaids and carried in a yearly procession.
The abbey is home to several elderly monks and one young monk who has yet to take his final vows. Thomas became a monk after his pregnant wife died in a car crash. He has been at the abbey for about five years and is expected to soon take his final vows. But when he and Jessie meet for the first time, it is instant chemistry. In Jessie, Thomas rediscovers the sexual passion that has been absent from his life since becoming a monk. And Jessie rediscovers the thrill of falling love and the romance that she has been missing from her own marriage.
But then Hugh unexpectly shows up, and being an intelligent man, soon understands that his wife is involved with another man.  Now Jessie and Thomas need to make some serious choices and Nelle has cut off another of her fingers.

There is so much I didn't like about this story. Jessie's infatuation with Thomas. Nelle's dealing with the past by mutilating herself. Jessie's casual dismissal of her wedding vows. Jessie committing adultery and declaring the holiness of it. Jessie only coming into her artistic self by running away from her marriage and getting involved with a monk.
We are led to believe there is some mystery in Nelle's past that is driving her to cut off her fingers, but it takes forever for the story to reveal what Nelle's problem is. I was less interested in Jessie and her poor decision-making and more about concerned with what was bothering Nelle, but the author takes forever to return to the story of Nelle's mystery. I just got bored.
To me, Jessie is a fool and I just didn't like her. Kind of ruined the story for me.

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