Sue Monk Kidd,
The Mermaid Chair
(Viking, 2005)

I cried at the beauty of The Secret Life of Bees. I stayed up late to finish it and was transported to another world. So, naturally, I put in my request for Sue Monk Kidd's second novel as soon as I heard about it, months before it was published. And I was let down.

This is just kind of ho-hum, a woman with a blah life, trying to find herself, trying to figure out her place in her relationships. It never really grabbed me, and none of the characters were really convincing. What were these people's motivations?

When the twist at the end is finally revealed, I found myself looking back at the entire premise of the novel (mom's lifelong best friend makes the estranged daughter return to mom and friend's island because the mom is having severe mental troubles) to be flawed. Given what other people knew about the secret to the mom's mental troubles, how the heck was bringing the estranged daughter out there a good idea? And why should I care about Jessie? She was poorly developed, in my opinion. The end was predictable and just blah. I contrast that to Bees, which had an ending I was secretly hoping for but knew wasn't possible, and Kidd managed to give me an ending that I both adored and found entirely plausible.

I did notice that this had the same women-doing-girls-only-quasi-religious-ceremonies-and-dances plot element that Bees had. Yet Bees was richer in its religious, cultural and historical traditions. The history of Catholic saints and Gullah culture seemed forced here -- it never really gelled for me. Another repeated theme was the child who felt lifelong guilt over causing the death of a parent.

A follow-up to Bees is a weighty task. Sophomore novels are challenging. I won't write Kidd off yet, but she only gets one more chance with me. This alone wouldn't convince me to read more of her stuff. I'm sad that this got so much hype when it came out.

by Jessica Lux-Baumann
4 March 2006

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