Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Book Review: "American Mermaid" by Julia Langbein

Julia Langbein’s debut novel is unique and thought-provoking.

Penelope was a high school English teacher, barely making ends meet, and still having to rely on her parents far more than she’d like. But then inspiration strikes and she becomes the author of a feminist novel about a mermaid.

The book becomes a surprise hit, and Penelope is offered the opportunity to help write the screenplay for the film adaptation. She moves to California and quickly realizes the world of film isn’t quite what she thought it would be. Paired with two male screenwriters, they try to change the main character from a fiercely feminist eco-warrior to a sexy teenage nymphet wearing a clamshell bra. How much latitude does she have to fight back before the movie doesn’t resemble her book at all?

But the more things change in the script, the more weird things start happening. Strange additions and changes appear in the script and no one can figure out who is responsible. People are lured into dangerous situations. Is there a possibility that Penelope’s character has come to life to avenge the changes being made?

This is a quirky and really creative story within a story. We see both Penelope’s struggles in Los Angeles and get to see her book’s plot unfold. The problem for me, however, is that nothing felt fully done; in jamming the book full of two plots, neither seemed complete.

Some reviews have said that this book is really funny, but I didn’t see that. There’s a lot of the same jokes about men being sex-crazed chauvinists and after a while that gets tiring. (I don't disagree about some men, but still.)

This wasn’t a book I enjoyed, but it definitely was an interesting story. And now I’ve read two mermaid/merman books (with The Pisces). Who knew it was a genre?

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