Lydia Millet's work covers a broad range that includes literary, political and picaresque novels, YA fantasies and collections of stories and essays. Along the way she's picked up a PEN Award (My Happy Life) and was a finalist for both a Pulitzer Prize (Love in Infant Monkeys) and National Book Critics Circle Award (Magnificence). She extends her reach with Mermaids in Paradise, a sparkling comedy of a modern young California couple's journey from marriage to honeymoon to murder mystery to eco-warrior showdown. It reads as if Maria Semple's Bernadette wound up on Gilligan's Island, with a Lord of the Flies misanthropic bent.
Narrator Deb is a sensible, quick-witted woman with an MBA in finance. Her fiancé, Chip, is a good-hearted, square-jawed sort of guy with a taste for fantasy, video games and mud marathons--"he's a great dancer... shocking in a heterosexual white man, and far more so if you add gamer to that list of adjectives." Her best friend and wing-woman Gina is the cynic in her life, throwing the bachelorette party at a zombie-themed rave and disparaging any honeymoon that treads in the "vast featureless space... oddly irrelevant no-man's land" of Middle America or takes place on a cruise ship. After their nuptials, Chip and Deb land at a Caribbean resort in the British Virgin Islands, where the always-friendly Chip collects an oddball coterie of new friends that includes a marine biologist specializing in parrotfish, a toe fetishist, a coarse-mouthed retired Navy SEAL, a popular Japanese TV personality and a paranoid hippie vegetarian.
When the biologist stumbles upon a school of honest-to-God mermaids during a reef dive, Deb and Chip's honeymoon turns into a scientific adventure. They're eager to videotape the mermaids, authenticate the discovery and build a sanctuary--until the biologist is murdered, the owners of the resort try to corral the mermaids for a commercial viewing armada dubbed The Venture of Marvels, Middle American creationists campaign to eradicate these creatures who are "not the work of the Lord... [but] are filth and abomination," the former SEAL foments confrontation, and local militia appears to referee the melee.
Millet is clever and funny, and she knows the idiosyncrasies of her characters, especially Deb--"Chip had initially wanted one of those Renaissance faire weddings, until I told him I'd rather get a Renaissance faire divorce." She has even interspersed her tale with typical vacation-like Instagram snapshots of the novel's turning points. Mermaids in Paradise is a smart, good-time mash-up of the undersides of romance, mystery, religious zealotry, violence and eco-tourism. -- Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Shelf Talker: When hip young California newlyweds discover mermaids on their honeymoon, Millet's funny new novel takes a turn to sharp satire of creationists, eco-tourists and opportunists.