The Mermaid Chair
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• Published by Viking, 2005
• # 1 New York Times Bestseller
• Winner of the Quill Award for General Fiction
Inside the church of a Benedictine monastery on Egret Island, just off the coast of South Carolina, resides a beautiful and mysterious chair ornately carved with mermaids and dedicated to a saint who, legend claims, was a mermaid before her conversion.
When Jessie Sullivan is summoned home to the island to cope with her eccentric mother’s seemingly inexplicable behavior, she is living a conventional life with her husband, Hugh, a life “molded to the smallest space possible.” Jessie loves Hugh, but once on the island, she finds herself drawn to Brother Thomas, a monk about to take his final vows. Amid a rich community of unforgettable island women and the exotic beauty of marshlands, tidal creeks, and majestic egrets, Jessie grapples with the tension of desire and the struggle to deny it, with a freedom that feels overwhelmingly right and the immutable force of home and marriage.
What transpires will unlock the roots of her mother’s tormented past, but most of all, it will allow Jessie to awaken to herself, as she explores the thin line between the spiritual and the erotic. A vividly imagined love story between a woman and a monk, a woman and her husband, and ultimately a woman and her own soul, The Mermaid Chair is a transcendent tale of self-discovery.
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"Kidd has a flair for making us see her characters with great vividness and immediacy."
—New York Times Book Review
"Kidd's imagination, originality and command of language never cease. She is simply a profound storyteller.”
—The Denver Post
"Rewarding… Kidd achieves a bold intensity and complexity that wasn't possible in The Secret Life of Bees, narrated by teenage Lily. Emotionally rich… full of sultry, magical descriptions.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
February 17, 1988, I opened my eyes and heard a procession of sounds: first the phone going off on the opposite side of the bed, rousing us at 5:04 a.m. to what could only be a calamity, then rain pummeling the roof of our old Victorian house, sluicing its sneaky way to the basement, and finally small puffs of air coming from Hugh’s lower lip, each one perfectly timed, like a metronome.
Twenty years of this puffing. I’d heard it when he wasn’t even asleep, when he sat in his leather wing chair after dinner, reading through the column of psychiatric journals rising from the floor, and it would seem like the cadence against which my entire life was set.
The phone rang again, and I lay there, waiting for Hugh to pick up, certain it was one of his patients, probably the paranoid schizophrenic who’d phoned last night convinced the CIA had him cornered in a federal building in downtown Atlanta.
A third ring, and Hugh fumbled for the receiver. “Yes, hello,” he said, and his voice came out coarse, a hangover from sleep.
I rolled away from him then and stared across the room at the faint, watery light on the window, remembering that today was Ash Wednesday, feeling the inevitable rush of guilt.
My father had died on Ash Wednesday when I was nine years old, and in a convoluted way, a way that made no sense to anyone but me, it had been at least partially my fault.