The Mermaid Chair, by Sue Monk Kidd *****

themermaidchairJessie Sullivan has a twenty-year itch. She’s stifled, confined, and irritated by her husband, Hugh, a psychiatrist whose professional knowledge makes him automatically correct in any difference of opinion. When the phone call comes telling them that her mother has deliberately chopped off her own index finger, Hugh tells Jessie to go, and once gone, she finds herself unwilling to return home.

Jessie tells Hugh she has to take care of her mother, but the truth is that she has to take care of herself. And the other truth is that she has fallen madly, deeply in love with a monk who lives at the friary next door. And it’s mutual.

Beneath the surface of her romance, old family business percolates, heats, expands. And something is about to blow.

Merely telling you the outline of the plot fails to convey the magnitude of this writer’s magic. If you have read anything else by Sue Monk Kidd, you have at least an idea of what she’s capable of. A few writers are capable of speaking to the reader as if there is no other reader; the whole thing has been written for you, and you alone. It’s deep, and it’s personal.

In my retirement years I have been devouring books the way I once did bags of chips. Sometimes a few months later I look back at the list of books I have read, and have to get online and remind myself what some of them were even about.

Yet there are others that strike a chord so deep and true that years, decades may go by and I’ll still remember them almost as if I had just read them. And this is one of those; I know it already. I actually stopped breathing a few times, I was so struck by her prose.

It’s possible that this may appeal most to middle aged women and those who are older, since that is the gender and stage of life of the protagonist. Yet in some ways such labeling is unfair, because women often read and are spellbound by novels whose chief protagonist is male, so it seems as if the reverse should be true sometimes. All I know for sure is that it really worked for me.

My copy came from the local library, but if I had paid full jacket price for this little treasure, it would have been worth every penny.

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