I’ve had a preoccupation with nuclear bombs since third grade. It amazes me that all of us go about our everyday, normal lives with these atrocities in our midst. I could go on and on about my obsession with all things nuclear. I’ll save it for another time…There are so many books that I love that address nukes, but one of my very favorites is Lydia Millet’s “O Pure and Radiant Heart,” which brings Oppenheimer, Fermi, and Szilard to the present day so they can see the monster that they created. Millet plays with the absurd in her novels, and they are all political, hilarious, and thought-provoking.
In “Mermaids in Paradise” her dark, biting humor had me laughing out loud and smirking on almost every page. The novel’s premise is the Caribbean honeymoon trip of a normal, boring American couple that takes a weird turn when they discover mermaids. Yes, mermaids. You never know, they could be out there.
The husband, Chip, is a happy, all around good guy with an obsession with Midwesterners, gaming, and fantasy. The wife, Deb, narrates the story. She’s a bit of a sour-puss who gives wry observations like the following about wedding planning with her mother in law:
“I told her no favors, since Chip and I had passed beyond that phase. We were adults, I told her calmly, but firmly: when we attended a party we didn’t expect to go home with sparkle-filled bouncy balls or a handful of Tootsie Pops…No, we were perfectly pleased to leave a party empty-handed, our blood alcohol content somewhere above .08.”
“If a man like Chip can emerge sane and whole from eighteen formative years with a Nurse Ratched harpy, there’s hope of redemption for each and every one of us. There’s hope the sun may not burn out after all, some billions of years hence, transforming into a giant fireball that obliterates the planet.”
When Chip and Deb get to their honeymoon, it starts to get weird, and hilarious. They meet a motley crew of people, and together they try to save the mermaids from the claws of capitalism that are absolutely everywhere in our world. “Mermaids in Paradise” examines issues like extinction, exploitation, and technology.
Deb thinks: “What was their problem? Our problem, as a race…It seemed to me the virtual world was even worse that the real one, when it came to humanity…Here we sat at civilizations technological peak, and what we chose to do on that shining pinnacle was hate each other’s guts.”
I just finished another irreverent novel called “The Wallcreeper” by Nell Zink. It is a dark, twisted book that is FULL of zippy one-liners. Thru the lens of a parasitic woman who attaches herself to men, the book explores eco-terrorism, marriage, and the search for meaning.
Two nights ago I stayed up until 2:00 in the morning to read “What Comes Next and How to Like It” by Abigail Thomas. This memoir is so honest that reading parts of it are uncomfortable. I felt like a voyeur that was snooping on her family. Thomas writes about mortality, being hurt by those we love the very most, forgiveness, addictions, and complicated family dynamics. She writes truth.
Thomas gives possibly the best advice EVER: “Forget career, forget the future, forget existential worries, just get yourselves a couple of dogs, and everything will be all right.” Yup, that about sums it up. Also I love how she captures the mother /daughter relationship over and over. She describes something to her daughter, who responds, “Yes Mom, I know. Your memories are my memories.”
For another view into someone’s life that feels a little uncomfortable, but is so, so beautiful listen to the podcast “The Living Room.” Sob!!