The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kid tells the story of Jessie Sullivan, a middle-aged woman who reexamines her life and twenty-year marriage after a tragedy forces her to travel back to the island where she grew up. After meeting and falling in love with a Benedictine monk, Jessie must make a decision between the man she has loved for twenty years and the man she believes is her soul mate.
Jessie gets a call to go back to the island that was her childhood home, where she finds out that her mother, who has not been herself since the death of her husband more than thirty years before, cut off her own finger. After arriving at the island sans husband, Jessie meets and quickly falls in love with a Benedictine monk, named Whit.
Despite the sacrifices she and Whit would both have to make in order to be together, Jessie plans to leave her husband and take the plunge with her soul mate. That is, until her husband arrives at the island to help Jessie with the deteriorating health of her mother, and Jessie must face the choices she made head on.
Jessie struggles with the different loves she feels – love for her husband, for the thrill of being with Whit, and most importantly, love for herself. She grows as she moves through rut she experiences in her middle years, and emerges from the tale as a changed woman.
Interwoven with the twisted love story is the mystery of the death of Jessie’s father, and the surprising ending makes the somewhat slower parts worth it. Although the story is incredibly unrealistic, combining a relationship with a monk, a murder worthy of a soap opera, and mermaid legends, it also gives an honest look at a midlife crisis and the choices one must make.
This honest look, however, makes Jessie, the main character, almost impossible to like. Not only is she incredibly self-centered and mistreats the people in her life, she is also shallow and whiny. Although the plot is exciting and makes you want to find out what could possibly happen next, reading about someone so completely unappealing made me want to throw the book at the wall at times.
Overall, The Mermaid Chair had an interesting concept and was not a wasted read, although it was slow and a little ridiculous at times. I would never recommend it to someone who wanted a deep book, but as a light romance and mystery, this novel meets expectations.