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Julia Langbein

Author of American Mermaid

4 Works 140 Members 13 Reviews

About the Author

Julia Langbein is Senior Research Fellow at the Center for European Integration at Freie Universitt Berlin, and Scientific Coordinator for the FP7 research project "Maximizing the Integration Capacity of the European Union" (MAXCAP). Her research interests include European integration and the show more comparative political economy of Eastern Europe. show less

Works by Julia Langbein


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Penelope teaches English in a high school and attempts to scrape by on a 37K salary. Then she writes a novel and, after it becomes a social media favorite, she quits her job to be a part of the team turning her novel into a movie script. As she dutifully attends party after party held in the homes of producers and screenwriters, she attempts to prevent her writing partners from turning her novel into a superhero movie, and begins to feel like her protagonist is reaching out to influence things. Penelope's experiences in Los Angeles are alternated with chapters from her book, an odd, feminist thriller about environmental peril and mermaids.

This is a funny book about a young woman trying to find a place for herself in the world that demands she be money-oriented and willing to parlay her unexpected success into a high paying career. What Penelope really wants is the question she'll have to answer eventually, but meanwhile there are some fiercely self-possessed teenage girls, a co-worker who stockpiles pizza and a screenplay that seems to add to itself to figure out. The writing is witty and intelligent and humorous. I'm looking forward to whatever Langbein writes next.
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2 vote
RidgewayGirl | 12 other reviews | Mar 18, 2024 |
A book about a writer and the soul-crushing process of adapting your story for Hollywood. Clever and often funny. Too much drinking.
sturlington | 12 other reviews | Mar 2, 2024 |
So I will tell you, if I ever use the word 'cringe' in my life, the first thing I might think of for 'cringe' is stand-up comedians. Now I am 1,000% unaware of whatever Langbein's comedy origins are, but stand-up comedy annoys the heck outta me in general-- they seem so dang desperate, standing up there, looking for a laugh. So it's intriguing to see a novel by a stand-up comedian! Kind of me saying "bring it". But also a big risk for this particular reader! I guess both forms -- comedy and novels -- rely on WORDS, but to apply words to these forms are very different. I'm pleased to say that I found 'American Mermaid' both very funny and very literary, so I think Langbein did a very great job here. The book follows Penny, an English teacher in her 30s who also wrote a novel about a mermaid in her very spare time. The narrative is split between excerpts of the novel that Penny has written, about a young woman who finds out she is an adopted mermaid. I mean, I can say "excerpts" of the novel, but it seemed the entire novel was here. I see a clear distinction between the "novel" Penny is writing, and the chapters about Penny herself -- very different styles. Also, I think the desperation that a comedian might have really channels into the desperation of the main character here -- her desperation at being a financially struggling English teacher (yet still loves her job), the desperation of not being heard in Los Angeles while she is trying to write a screenplay for her book and a character she connects with and loves AND the desperation of the ticking time bomb of a genetic test that shows that she needs to scrape money together for a surgery. Talk about ridiculous desperation levels. But it works here! The bits of the "novel" that Penny is writing connects to the chapters that Langbein is writing about Penny. I feel like I'm noticing so much care and attention that Langbein is attending to these words, these sentences are rich and fantastic, even when they aren't trying to be funny and I can appreciate that. I really don't gravitate to "Mermaid" things, so this was a nice surprise. I wasn't expecting much here, which might be me stereotyping what might result when a stand-up comedian writes a novel, but I think writing fiction is Langbein's true calling. I couldn't have asked for more in this one. This book definitely Brought It. But hey, maybe Langbein would also be the only comedian I could tolerate. Just as I can see the sincerity that Penny gives to the care of her book and writing Sylvia, I can see Langbein's sincerity and care here. I loved hilarious Penny, loved earnest Sylvia, loved Langbein's care with this book. Very glad I picked this book up, thanks to the Morning News Tournament of Books shoving it into my hands. I would also add this to what I call the Flailing Females list:
*Book #140/340 I have read of the shortlisted Morning News Tournament of Books
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booklove2 | 12 other reviews | Jan 6, 2024 |
An engaging read. Langbein’s mermaid tale is smart, funny, and feminist — three of my favorite characteristics in fiction, especially when they occur together. It is cynical and hopeful in *almost* equal measure.

It’s the story of high school English teacher called Penelope who surprised herself with a first novel so successful she’s offered a contract to write the movie script when she sells the rights to a Hollywood movie producer. Penelope is naïve to the ways of Hollywood, which provides opportunities for much of the novel’s cynicism and social critique. The device of the book-within-the-book is a little gimmicky but effectively highlights the similarities of Penelope’s story and the mermaid’s tale.

Thanks to #NetGalley for ARC in exchange for honest review.
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LizzK | 12 other reviews | Dec 8, 2023 |




½ 3.4

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