by: Erika Marks
Penguin Group New York, NY 2012
Another book by Erika Marks, but no they aren’t a series. This story also takes place in a little town in Maine. It also addresses non-standard family structures, keeping secrets and small town dynamics. You would definitely recognize the author’s style and interest. However, this is not the same story revisited.
The small town in the Mermaid Collector has an interesting history. The lighthouse keeper and three other men walked into the ocean together and drown. Apparently they couldn’t resist the call of the mermaids. To bolster the economy, the town began to celebrate its history with a summer festival, which brings hundreds of tourists through each year.
The narrative shifts back and forth from the historical setting and the unfolding of the lighthouse keeper’s story and the present day Tess. Tess is an artist and an import. She and her mother moved to the town when she was a child. She’s never quite fit, but she won the commission to sculpt the mermaid for the historical society. The unveiling is to be at the summer festival.
There is also a new family moving into the lighthouse keepers cottage. No one in town knows anything about them, or why Tess’s uncle would have left them the property. The historical society is determined to maintain their access, and really felt they should have gotten the inheritance for the town.
The core of the tale is mental illness. The consequences of guilt, and manic depression, and alcoholism all weigh on the characters in this tale. To contrast and delight is the fantasy of the mermaids. Beautiful, appealing, and deadly their siren call is warded by wind chimes and celebrated in piles of souvenirs.
Marks has a clear understanding of her characters and her settings. She holds a solid line of not whitewashing the problems while still maintaining an upbeat tone to her writing. I suspect she is an under appreciated author who is on the verge of hitting that best-seller popularity.