Lydia Millet

Lydia Millet is receiving warm reviews for her funny and insightful new novel, Mermaids in Paradise.

The novel, David Ulin writes in the Los Angeles Times, “operates on a variety of levels, from parody to romance to (in its own way) oddball thriller, tracing a couple [Deb & Chip] on their honeymoon who get embroiled in high-stakes drama after they discover actual mermaids swimming off a tropical reef.”

Writing in the New York Times Book Review, René Steinke observes: “Millet’s writing — witty, colorful, sometimes poetic — is, line by line, a joy to read, and her storytelling is immensely compelling. But there’s always an equally compelling philosophical discussion humming beneath everything. In Mermaids in Paradise that discussion is about the different ways people see the world, and how perceptions form belief. Chip, an earnest jock, idealizes ‘Middle Americans,’ their love of cruises, their children’s homemade toys, their knowledge of grain production. He spends his free time playing video games. Deb’s best friend, Gina, on the other hand, is a self-­described “failed academic” (who calls this phrase redundant), so full of irony that “everything’s performance art with her.” Chip and Gina represent opposite ways of seeing the world, and Deb, influenced by both, finds herself somewhere in between.”

The heart of the story is the effort of Deb, Chip and their half-dozen allies to thwart two groups seeking to harm the mermaids: the owners of the British Virgin Islands resort who see profit in capturing and exhibiting the mermaids and the vicious religious fanatics from Middle America who travel to the island to destroy these “abominations.”

As Laura Miller writes in Salon: “All sorts of capers and gambits ensue as the ragtag band of rebels tries to outmaneuver the superior forces of ruthless capitalism. Deb is hard-pressed to keep her new husband in one piece, what with “an ex-Navy father figure with a bomb” on board: “From now on, acts of terrorism and violence are a family decision, OK, Chip?” This could be a larkish Carl Hiaasen yarn, but Millet’s humor is less broad, more quirky and offbeat … For all its superficial resemblance to a Hollywood-movie scenario, Mermaids in Paradise is really a slapstick variation on Millet’s abiding theme: the relationship between human beings and the natural world, especially animals. The way we regard animals is fundamentally unstable; sometimes, in both our stories and our lives, we treat them as persons, of a kind. At other times, we treat them like things. We love our pets as surrogate children, but when it suits us, we blithely eat the flesh of cows and pigs. (Except for those of us who refuse to do either, but still may not hesitate to swat a mosquito.) The mermaids embody that contradiction. Deb and company see them as people, but the multinational wants to herd, pen and exhibit them like zoo animals.”

Lydia Millet’s Top Ten List

1. JR by William Gaddis (1975).
2. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925).
3. Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’ by C. S. Lewis (1952).
4. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (1971).
5. Woodcutters by Thomas Bernhard (1984).
6. The War with the Newts by Karel Capek (1936).
7. Auto-da-Fé by Elias Canetti (1935).
8. Red the Fiend by Gilbert Sorrentino (1995).
9. Masquerade and Other Stories by Robert Walser (1878–1956).
10. Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable, a trilogy by Samuel Beckett (1951–54).