When her husband Harry calls from work and says he’s stopping for cigarettes, Jenny doesn’t think much of it. Until he doesn’t come home at all. Harry’s disappeared before, and Jenny suspects he’s on another gambling binge, but he’s never been gone for this long or without a word. Jenny’s already at her wit’s end, caring for head-strong 2-year old Betty and colicky infant Rose, along with Harry’s dog Juniper, in their Brooklyn 4th floor walk-up, and being abandoned is more than she thinks she can handle. Fortunately she has her friend Laura to lean on, and Harry’s mother Sylvia offers to watch the girls so Jenny can get some much-needed time alone.
In a moment of desperation, Jenny climbs onto the railing of the Brooklyn Bridge, figuring everyone would be better off without her. Seeing the shoes she left on the sidewalk jolts her back to reality, but too late, she falls into the water, where she is possessed by a demanding rusalka, which is a sort of mermaid from Slavic mythology.
With the rusalka on board, Jenny feels reborn. She goes outside her comfort zone, visiting parts of the city she hadn’t ventured into since before kids. She flirts with neighborhood stay-at-home-dad Sam, who she and Laura have nicknamed Cute Dad. She even manages to sleep train both of her girls, allowing her some much needed sleep, which helps her mood. She uses her sewing skills to create knock-offs of designer dresses for neighborhood moms, though she’s not quite sure how or when much of the work gets done. Jenny finds herself happy, in spite of the fact that she has no idea when, or even if, her husband is coming home.
The Mermaid of Brooklyn is loosely based on author Amy Shearn’s great-grandmother, a Lithuanian woman who was stopped from jumping off a bridge by a pair of shoes. The Jenny of the novel is judgmental, impatient, foul-mouthed and a bit of a jerk, but I couldn’t help but like her, especially when the rusalka is the one behind her actions, Jenny powerless to stop her. Once Jenny stops being so self-centered and starts listening to those around her, she starts to realize their perfect lives and marriages are not quite as perfect as they seem. Shearn began this novel when her daughter was 4 months old, and finished the editing 2 years later, and she nails the life of the mother of a toddler and an infant perfectly.
Thank you to the TLC Book Tour for the review copy of this novel.