When the middle-aged Jessie Sullivan visits Egret Island—her childhood home off the coast of South Carolina—to help her troubled mother, the last thing she expects to find is a soul mate. Yet that’s exactly what she finds in Brother Thomas, a monk about to take his final vows. Married to a conventional husband for 20 years, Jessie contemplates infidelity, copes with the death of her father years earlier, and listens to her own soul that is just now awakening. Set against the tale of a mysterious chair carved with mermaids, Jessie’s plight speaks to the passions of the mind, heart, body, and spirit.
Viking. 335 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0670033944
"[The novel drips] with vivid images of hot Southern afternoons, droning insects, swooping birds and oases in which nature is the fabric of life. … [P]erhaps the answer ultimately given by The Mermaid Chair is that a storyteller also can change course and come of age in the middle of her life." Susan Kelly
"The steady pulse of Kidd’s writing pushes this narrative from heart-throbber to soul-searcher. … There’s nothing to do but read on as Kidd pumps up the pulse and pulls on the heartstrings in this tear-jerker." Rosemary Herbert
"Kidd … draws on her extensive knowledge of theology and mythology in this insightful book about the passions and desires of body and soul. Although the pacing of The Mermaid Chair at times seems plodding, it becomes clear that Kidd’s deliberateness is purposeful as she slowly and carefully unveils her story about the meaning of love, the necessity of risk, and the power of forgiveness." Kris Hey
Minneapolis Star Tribune
"This novel too is suffused with religious symbols, including various saints and of course the chair. … If your book club contains enough Kidd fanatics, they will probably like this one. But no one should kidd herself that she is reading literary fiction …" Mickey Pearlman
"At times, the plot clunks along so slowly that loyalty to Kidd for the two-hankie ending in [The Secret Life of Bees] seems the only reason to continue. The author rewards us with an ending not quite as Lifetime Television as it seems to be headed, but pretty close." Janet Okoben
New York Times
"If a computer had been asked to combine romance, spirituality, nature, tourism, and violent self-mutilation it might have come up with something like this." Janet Maslin
"In the end, the more-is-more approach that succeeded so audaciously in The Secret Life of Bees can do little to rescue Kidd’s new book from its own puerile, waterlogged plot."
Critics generally agree that despite some thematic similarities, The Mermaid Chair is a sophomoric slump compared to Kidd’s bestselling debut novel, The Secret Life of Bees (2002). Kidd, who’s also authored several inspirational books, draws on her theological background to depict her characters’ awakening states. Despite complimenting some beautiful passages describing the Southern landscape, critics quickly ridiculed the novel’s enlightened romance—for Jessie, one of "transgression and betrayal," but "also mystery and what felt like holiness." The novel’s glacial pace and awkward mermaid symbolism only detracted from what could have been a poignant love story. If you’re a fan, however, perhaps there is enough pain and sacrifice to keep you reading.