The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd. New York: Viking, 2005. ISBN: 0-7394-5966-X
A worthy follow-up to if not quite the equal of The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd’s second novel resonates with the unique place setting, one of the Carolina barrier islands, with its creeks and marshes, beaches and tall grasses, while at the same time, its primary character, a woman named Jesse, tries to come to grips with not only her own life, but that of her mother, and the long hidden mystery surrounding her father’s death years earlier when she was still an impressionable child.
Now her mother has cut off one of her own fingers in a bizarre act of seemingly religious propitiation, and Jesse is trying, not too successfully, to get to the bottom of this behavior. At the same time she is realizing that she needs a release from her own life, especially the somewhat stifling aspects of being married to a professional psychiatrist, who always analyzes everything.
She indulges in a brief, but completely genuine fling with one of the Catholic monks on the island, a man close to her own age, much younger than most of the other monks, not yet sure of his own vocation, and still trying to decide whether he is escaping from his real life, rather than embracing a life of contemplation and God.
All of these seemingly disparate elements come together in a compelling story of psychological motives, life decisions, friendships, intimate relationships and revelations. Definitely recommended.