Cover image for Book Club kit : The Mermaid chair
Title:
Book Club kit : The Mermaid chair
Publication Information:
New York : Viking, c2005.
ISBN:
9780670033942
Physical Description:
9 bks. (xi, 335 p.) ; 22 cm. + 1 discussion guide
Language:
English
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader Grades 9-12 6.2 15 Quiz 86815 English fiction.
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Book Club Kit BOOK CLUB 1 .CIRCNOTE. *****9 BOOKS, 1 DISCUSSION GUIDE*****
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Summary

Summary

Inside the abbey of a Benedictine monastery on tiny 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. Jessie Sullivan's conventional life has been "molded to the smallest space possible." So when she is called home to cope with her mother's startling and enigmatic act of violence, Jessie finds herself relieved to be apart from her husband, Hugh. Jessie loves Hugh, but on Egret Island--amid the gorgeous marshlands and tidal creeks--she becomes drawn to Brother Thomas, a monk who is mere months from taking his final vows. What transpires will unlock the roots of her mother's tormented past, but most of all, as Jessie grapples with the tension of desire and the struggle to deny it, she will find a freedom that feels overwhelmingly right.

What inspires the yearning for a soul mate? Few writers have explored, as Kidd does, the lush, unknown region of the feminine soul where the thin line between the spiritual and the erotic exists. The Mermaid Chair is a vividly imagined novel about the passions of the spirit and the ecstasies of the body; one that illuminates a woman's self-awakening with the brilliance and power that only a writer of Kidd's ability could conjure.


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Every aspect of this audiobook, from the enchanting music that marks the story's dramatic moments to the narrator's intimate delivery, draws listeners into Kidd's mystical world. Set on Egret Island, a fictional barrier island off the coast of South Carolina, the novel focuses on 42-year-old Jessie, a Southern housewife who embarks on a journey of self-discovery after learning that her mother, who's still distraught over her husband's death 33 years earlier, has cut off her own finger. Foss speaks with grace and tenderness, deftly capturing the myriad characters who enter Jessie's life, including her love interest, an introspective attorney turned monk who's about to take his finals vows. Perhaps the book's most important character, however, is the land itself, and Foss wisely gives as much weight to Kidd's detailed depictions of the island's lush flora and fauna as to the characters themselves, never rushing through the descriptions and always reading these passages with an appropriate note of reverence. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved All rights reserved.


Kirkus Review

According to Kidd's follow-up to The Secret Life of Bees, there's nothing like a little soulful adultery to get an anemic marriage back on track. Atlanta housewife and part-time artist Jessie Sullivan has been in a mild funk since her daughter Dee started college. Then she and her sensitive but controlling husband, Hugh, receive news that her obsessively devout mother, Nelle, has purposely cut off a finger--whether out of misplaced piety or mental illness isn't known. With trepidation, Jessie returns to the South Carolina barrier island where she was raised to care for Nelle. She still carries guilt that a spark from the pipe she had given her father supposedly caused the boating accident that killed him when she was nine. Since then, Nelle has cooked for the neighboring monks, whose patron saint, Saint Senare, was an Irish mermaid before she found God. Jessie meets and is immediately attracted to the newest addition to the monastery, Father Thomas. A former lawyer whose wife and unborn child died in a freak accident, Father Thomas, who has yet to take his final vows, is in charge of the rookery, so he spends his days paddling alone down various creeks. Soon, Jessie is paddling with him while delving into her own sensuality and selfhood. No pure lust, but a spiritual coupling has taken place as evidenced, at least, by the pictures she creates of a mermaid diving deep toward the ocean floor, while there's much talk of being "damned and saved both." Jesse learns she isn't to blame for her father's death, but her relief is short-lived, since Nelle cuts off another finger. Loyal Hugh shows up to help and discovers Jessie's affair. Once the truth of Jessie's father's death is revealed, Nelle begins a real recovery, while a wiser, stronger Jessie returns to the ever-patient Hugh, who vows to be a better husband. Bestselling Kidd (The Secret Life of Bees (2002) has a gift for language, but the saccharine aftertaste won't go away. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

Kidd's debut novel, The Secret Life of Bees 0 (2000) ,0 is a bona fide publishing success story: it was on the New York Times0 paperback best-seller list for 81 weeks. Her follow-up, while quite different in plot, shares some themes with its predecessor. Forty-three-year old Jessie Sullivan is pulled out of her staid life in Atlanta with her husband and daughter, back to her childhood home on Egret Island after her mother, Nelle, cuts off one of her own fingers. Jessie has been uneasy with the island since her beloved father died when she was nine in a boating accident, a tragedy Jessie has always felt partially responsible for. At the behest of her mother's best friend, Jessie journeys back to the island to try to reconnect with the mother she's never been close to. Jessie wants to know what drove her obviously disturbed mother to sever her finger, and she thinks Father Dominic, one of the Benedictine monks who resides in a nearby monastery, might know more about her mother's state of mind. But it is another monk who claims Jessie's attention--handsome Brother Thomas, who ignites in Jessie a passion so intense it overwhelms her, leading her to question her marriage and rediscover her artistic drive. Kidd's second offering is just as gracefully written as her first and possesses an equally compelling story. It should appeal to the many readers who made her first novel a hit with book clubs. --Kristine Huntley Copyright 2005 Booklist


Library Journal Review

The fancifully carved "mermaid chair" belongs to a Benedictine monastery on the island where Jessie has gone to find herself-and instead finds Brother Thomas. With a 20-city tour. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

CHAPTER ONE 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 Hughfs lower lip, each one perfectly timed, like a metronome. Twenty years of this puffing. Ifd heard it when he wasnft 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 whofd 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. 8Yes, hello,e 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. There had been a fire on his boat, a fuel-tank explosion, theyfd said. Pieces of the boat had washed up weeks later, including a portion of the stern with Jes-Sea printed on it. Hefd named the boat for me, not for my brother, Mike, or even for my mother, whom hefd adored, but for me, Jessie. I closed my eyes and saw oily flames and roaring orange light. An article in the Charleston newspaper had referred to the explosion as suspicious, and there had been some kind of investigation, though nothing had ever come of it=things Mike and Ifd discovered only because wefd sneaked the clipping from Motherfs dresser drawer, a strange, secret place filled with fractured rosaries, discarded saint medals, holy cards, and a small statue of Jesus missing his left arm. She had not imagined we would venture into all that broken-down holiness. I went into that terrible sanctum almost every day for over a year and read the article obsessively, that one particular line: 8Police speculate that a spark from his pipe may have ignited a leak in the fuel line.e Ifd given him the pipe for Fatherfs Day. Up until then he had never even smoked. I still could not think of him apart from the word 8suspicious,e apart from this day, how hefd become ash the very day people everywhere=me, Mike, and my mother=got our foreheads smudged with it at church. Yet another irony in a whole black ensemble of them. 8Yes, of course I remember you,e I heard Hugh say into the phone, yanking me back to the call, the bleary morning. He said, 8Yes, wefre all fine here. And how are things there?e This didnft sound like a patient. And it wasnft our daughter, Dee, I was sure of that. I could tell by the formality in his voice. I wondered if it was one of Hughfs colleagues. Or a resident at the hospital. They called sometimes to consult about a case, though generally not at five in the morning. I slipped out from the covers and moved with bare feet to the window across the room, wanting to see how likely it was that rain would flood the basement again and wash out the pilot light on the hot-water heater. I stared out at the cold, granular deluge, the bluish fog, the street already swollen with water, and I shivered, wishing the house were easier to warm. Ifd nearly driven Hugh crazy to buy this big, impractical house, and even though wefd been in it seven years now, I still refused to criticize it. I loved the sixteen-foot ceilings and stained-glass transoms. And the turret=God, I loved the turret. How many houses had one of those? You had to climb the spiral stairs inside it to get to my art studio, a transformed third-floor attic space with a sharply slanted ceiling and a skylight=so remote and enchanting that Dee had dubbed it the 8Rapunzel tower.e She was always teasing me about it. 8Hey, Mom, when are you gonna let your hair down?e That was Dee being playful, being Dee, but we both knew what she meant=that Ifd become too stuffy and self-protected. Too conventional. This past Christmas, while she was home, Ifd posted a Gary Larson cartoon on the refrigerator with a magnet that proclaimed me worldfs greatest mom. In it, two cows stood in their idyllic pasture. One announced to the other, 8I donft care what they say, Ifm not content.e Ifd meant it as a little joke, for Dee. I remembered now how Hugh had laughed at it. Hugh, who read people as if they were human Rorschachs, yet hefd seen nothing suggestive in it. It was Dee whofd stood before it an inordinate amount of time, then given me a funny look. She hadnft laughed at all. To be honest, I had been restless. It had started back in the fall=this feeling of time passing, of being postponed, pent up, not wanting to go up to my studio. The sensation would rise suddenly like freight from the ocean floor=the unexpected discontent of cows in their pasture. The constant chewing of all that cud. With winter the feeling had deepened. I would see a neighbor running along the sidewalk in front of the house, training, I imagined, for a climb up Kilimanjaro. Or a friend at my book club giving a blow-by-blow of her bungee jump from a bridge in Australia. Or=and this was the worst of all=a TV show about some intrepid woman traveling alone in the blueness of Greece, and Ifd be overcome by the little river of sparks that seemed to run beneath all that, the blood/sap/wine, aliveness, whatever it was. It had made me feel bereft over the immensity of the world, the extraordinary things people did with their lives=though, really, I didnft want to do any of those particular things. I didnft know then what I wanted, but the ache for it was palpable. I felt it that morning standing beside the window, the quick, furtive way it insinuated itself, and I had no idea what to say to myself about it. Hugh seemed to think my little collapse of spirit, or whatever it was I was having, was about Deefs being away at college, the clich+d empty nest and all that. Last fall, after wefd gotten her settled at Vanderbilt, Hugh and Ifd rushed home so he could play in the Waverly Harris Cancer Classic, a tennis tournament hefd been worked up about all summer. Hefd gone out in the Georgia heat for three months and practiced twice a week with a fancy Prince graphite racket. Then Ifd ended up crying all the way home from Nashville. I kept picturing Dee standing in front of her dorm waving good-bye as we pulled away. She touched her eye, her chest, then pointed at us=a thing shefd done since she was a little girl. Eye. Heart. You. It did me in. When we got home, despite my protests, Hugh called his doubles partner, Scott, to take his place in the tournament, and stayed home and watched a movie with me. An Officer and a Gentleman. He pretended very hard to like it. The deep sadness I felt in the car that day had lingered for a couple of weeks, but it had finally lifted. I did miss Dee=of course I did=but I couldnft believe that was the real heart of the matter. Lately Hugh had pushed me to see Dr. Ilg, one of the psychiatrists in his practice. Ifd refused on the grounds that she had a parrot in her office. I knew that would drive him crazy. This wasnft the real reason, of course=I have nothing against peoplefs having parrots, except that they keep them in little cages. But I used it as a way of letting him know I wasnft taking the suggestion seriously. It was one of the rare times I didnft acquiesce to him. 8So shefs got a parrot, so what?e hefd said. 8Youfd like her.e Probably I would, but I couldnft quite bring myself to go that far=all that paddling around in the alphabet soup of onefs childhood, scooping up letters, hoping to arrange them into enlightening sentences that would explain why things had turned out the way they had. It evoked a certain mutiny in me. I did occasionally, though, play out imaginary sessions with Dr. Ilg in my head. I would tell her about my father, and, grunting, she would write it down on a little pad=which is all she ever seemed to do. I pictured her bird as a dazzling white cockatoo perched on the back of her chair, belting out all sorts of flagrant opinions, repeating itself like a Greek chorus: 8You blame yourself, you blame yourself, you blame yourself.e Not long ago=I donft know what possessed me to do it=Ifd told Hugh about these make- believe sessions with Dr. Ilg, even about the bird, and hefd smiled. 8Maybe you should just see the bird,e he said. 8Your Dr. Ilg sounds like an idiot.e Now, across the room, Hugh was listening to the person on the phone, muttering, 8Uh-huh, uh-huh.e His face had clamped down into what Dee called 8the Big Frown,e that pinched expression of grave and intense listening in which you could almost see the various pistons in his brain=Freud, Jung, Adler, Horney, Winnicott=bobbing up and down. Wind lapped over the roof, and I heard the house begin to sing=as it routinely did=with an operatic voice that was very Beverly 8Shrill,e as we liked to say. There were also doors that refused to close, ancient toilets that would suddenly decline to flush (8The toilets have gone anal- retentive again!e Dee would shout), and I had to keep constant vigilance to prevent Hugh from exterminating the flying squirrels that lived in the fireplace in his study. If we ever got a divorce, he loved to joke, it would be about squirrels. But I loved all of this; I truly did. It was only the basement floods and the winter drafts that I hated. And now, with Dee in her first year at Vanderbilt, the emptiness=I hated that. Hugh was hunched on his side of the bed, his elbows balanced on his knees and the top two knobs of his spine visible through his pajamas. He said, 8You realize this is a serious situation, donft you? She needs to see someone=I mean, an actual psychiatrist.e I felt sure then it was a resident at the hospital, though it did seem Hugh was talking down to him, and that was not like Hugh. Through the window the neighborhood looked drowned, as if the houses=some as big as arks=might lift off their foundations and float down the street. I hated the thought of slogging out into this mess, but of course I would. I would drive to Sacred Heart of Mary over on Peachtree and get my forehead swiped with ashes. When Dee was small, shefd mistakenly called the church the 8Scared Heart of Mary.e The two of us still referred to it that way sometimes, and it occurred to me now how apt the name really was. I mean, if Mary was still around, like so many people thought, including my insatiably Catholic mother, maybe her heart was scared. Maybe it was because she was on such a high and impossible pedestal=Consummate Mother, Good Wife, All-Around Paragon of Perfect Womanhood. She was probably up there peering over the side, wishing for a ladder, a parachute, something to get her down from there. I hadnft missed going to church on Ash Wednesday since my father had died=not once. Not even when Dee was a baby and I had to take her with me, stuffing her into a thick papoose of blankets, armored with pacifiers and bottles of pumped breast milk. I wondered why Ifd kept subjecting myself to it=year after year at the Scared Heart of Mary. The priest with his dreary incantation: 8Remember you are dust, to dust you shall return.e The blotch of ash on my forehead. I only knew I had carried my father this way my whole life. Hugh was standing now. He said, 8Do you want me to tell her?e He looked at me, and I felt the gathering of dread. I imagined a bright wave of water coming down the street, rounding the corner where old Mrs. Vandiver had erected a gazebo too close to her driveway; the wave, not mountainous like a tsunami but a shimmering hillside sweeping toward me, carrying off the ridiculous gazebo, mailboxes, doghouses, utility poles, azalea bushes. A clean, ruinous sweep. 8Itfs for you,e Hugh said. I didnft move at first, and he called my name. 8Jessie. The call=itfs for you.e He held the receiver out to me, sitting there with his thick hair sticking up on the back of his head like a childfs, looking grave and uneasy, and the window copious with water, a trillion pewter droplets coming down on the roof. " Excerpted from The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.