The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

I just finished reading The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd. The main character has a bit of an identity crisis spurred on by her daughter’s leaving for college and her mother’s emotional breakdown. She paints these images of mermaids (herself) diving deeper and deeper and shredding all symbols of her old self: wedding rings, spatulas, etc. In the end, I felt that the main character never dove that deep, because throughout the novel she maintains this analysis of self that is mostly right on and, in the end, left no mystery in her transformation. It’s made more believable by her psychiatrist husband and her own self-awareness, but still I couldn’t help feeling like it is all just a little too easy for her, just some motions she needed to go through to find her true self. I was never afraid that she would lose herself entirely. So, while I could relate to much of what she was going through, I was jealous of how easy it was for her. She had her affair with a monk, took mud baths in her childhood stomping ground and danced when no one was watching, and in the end came back to her old life with a new sense of self and an independence that only served to strengthen her marriage of some twenty plus years. I enjoyed the book, maybe even enjoyed how cleanly the emotional lives of all are tied up because it offers me some kind of hope for my own sanity, for the sanity of people in general. However, there is this part of me that thinks–nah–they were (the characters) all just a little too sane to be real.
Here are some lines that I underlined as I read:

“The wind is spiked with the smell of my childhood, and the water is ultramarine blue, shining like taffeta.” (1)
Comment: Lovely image. There are places in my home town that make me feel this way when I go there.

“I should go inside, but I stood on the porch for a few minutes in a breeze that had chilled and darkened and smelled of the marsh, finishing whatever had come over me earlier–that little baptism of sadness.” (45)
Comment: Love that phrase–“baptism of sadness”

“The medic who’d responded to the accident told him over and over that she had gone quickly, as if her leaving sooner would console him.” (49)
Comment: Captures the depth of grief.

“He couldn’t remember precisely when it had first occurred to him to come here, but it had been around a year after her death. He’d sent his baptism and confirmation records, recommendations from two priest, and a long, carefully constructed letter. And still everyone, including the abbot, has said he was running away from his grief. They’d had no idea what they were talking about. He’d cradled his grief almost to the point of loving it. For so long he’d refused to give it up, because leaving it behind was like leaving her.” (49)
Comment: Love the metaphor. Grief as a child? Ironic, but true.

“Despite this, he felt God the same way arthritic monks felt the rain coming in their joints. He felt only the hint of him.” (52)
Comment: Love the comparison.

“I think we could have lit the tip of her finger and let it burn like a taper and the moment wouldn’t have seemed any stranger to me.” (65)
Comment: Yes, that is a strange image. Works.

“Soul. The word redounded to me, and I wondered, as I often had, what it was exactly. People talked about it all the time, but did anybody actually know? Sometimes I’d pictured it like a pilot light burning inside a person–a drop of fire from the invisible inferno people called God. Or a squashy substance, like a piece of clay or dental mold, which collected the sum of a person’s experiences–a million indentations of happiness, desperation, fear, all the small piercings of beauty we’ve ever known.” (111)
Comment: The soul a piece of clay? A dental mold? Love this comparison.

“I did believe that women only had so much libido, and when it was used up, it was used up…Now I saw I’d had it all wrong. There were no tanks, small or otherwise, just faucets. All of them connected to a bottomless erotic sea. Perhaps I’d let my faucet rust shut, or something had clogged it up. I didn’t know.” (125)
Comment: Like this metaphor.

“For days after that, I’d been deflated by my own shrunken world. When had my fear of broken plates gotten so grandiose? My desire for extravagant moments so small? After that, I’d made room for the china in one of the kitchen cabinets and used it indiscriminately. Because it was Wednesday. Because someone had purchased one of my art boxes. Because it appeared that on Cheers Sam was finally going to marry Diane. It hadn’t gone much beyond the china, though, that good impulse toward largeness.” (127)
Comment: Love her ironically trivial attempt “toward largeness”.

“I was an accomplished practitioner of delayed gratification. Hugh once said that people who could delay gratification were highly mature. I could put off happiness for days, months, years. That’s how ‘mature’ I was.” (141)
Comment: Powerful sarcasm.

“I felt as though we’d passed through the eye of a tiny needle into a place that was out of time.” (146)
Comment: Love the image.

“You can’t stop your heart from loving, really–it’s like standing out there in the ocean yelling at the waves to stop.” (179)
Comment: Powerful comparison.

“It felt cruel and astonishing to realize that our relationship had never belonged out there in the world, in a real house where you wash socks and slice onions. It belonged in the shadow linings of the soul.” (315)
Comment: Like the phrase “shadow linings of the soul”.

“I felt amazed at the choosing one had to do, over and over, a million times a daily–choosing love, then choosing it again, how loving and being in love could be so different.” (322)
Comment: Expresses a truth about how often even in a single day, new possibilities reveal themselves in our lives. We are never stuck.


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