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American Mermaid: A Novel (edition 2023)
by Julia Langbein (Author)
American Mermaid: A Novel by Julia Langbein
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This is a metafictional story within a story about a high school English teacher whose best‑selling mermaid novel gets optioned for a Hollywood movie. It’s full of satirical humor about the entertainment biz and tosses in a little feminism and climate change activism too. I think the idea was to make it a mad cap comedy/adventure but all I know is that I had trouble following the plot. Maybe it was too meta or too millennial for me. Disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book through Goodreads Giveaways
Julia Langbein is so wickedly talented that I think she could make anything funny. With her first novel, American Mermaid, she has chosen to lampoon Hollywood, the book industry, teaching, teenagers, and men among other things. In it, Penelope Schleeman has quit her high school teaching job to move to Hollywood after her first novel, American Mermaid, hits it big and she is asked to help write the screenplay. Langbein intersperses chapters of the fictional American Mermaid with Penelope’s struggles in LA with her scriptwriting partners, her agent, and going to parties to network. Midway through the novel begins to lag a bit, but Langbein manages to pull it back together to give readers a laugh-out-loud but ultimately serious novel about capitalism, the environment, the entertainment industry, and how to find happiness.
A brilliantly funny debut novel which follows a writer lured to Los Angeles to adapt her feminist mermaid novel into a big-budget action film, who believes her heroine has come to life to take revenge for Hollywood's violations "I was hooked from the first page. American Mermaid is brilliantly sharp, funny, and thought-provoking, the gripping story of a woman trying to find her way in our chaotic world." --Madeline Miller, bestselling author of Circe Broke English teacher Penelope Schleeman is as surprised as anyone when her feminist novel American Mermaid becomes a best-seller. Lured by the promise of a big payday, she quits teaching and moves LA to turn the novel into an action flick with the help of some studio hacks. But as she's pressured to change her main character from a fierce, androgynous eco-warrior to a teen sex object in a clam bra, strange things start to happen. Threats appear in the screenplay; siren calls lure Penelope's co-writers into danger. Is Penelope losing her mind, or has her mermaid come to life, enacting revenge for Hollywood's violations? American Mermaid follows a young woman braving the casual slights and cruel calculations of a ruthless industry town, where she discovers a beating heart in her own fiction, a mermaid who will fight to move between worlds without giving up her voice. A hilarious story about deep things, American Mermaid asks how far we'll go to protect the parts of ourselves that are not for sale.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.6 — Literature English (North America) American fiction 21st Century
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This was a surprise for me. I don’t usually choose to read fantasy, and am cautious about debuts, but the description sounded too good to pass up, and the book turned out to be clever, entertaining, witty, and hard to put down. It’s a book within a book, and a screenplay also makes an appearance. The characters were likable (and the villain was appropriately evil).
I loved the way symbols and themes appeared and reappeared in the various platforms – the actual book written by Julia Langbein, the fictional novel written by main character Penny, the screenplay adapted by Hollywood scriptwriters. And there was even a mystery as to who was actually editing the screenplay.
I tried to describe the story to a friend but discovered it sounded convoluted and confusing and it’s so much better than I could explain. I think it’s best to just read and let the novel/book/screenplay take you where they want you to go – very much like floating on a current in the ocean. And with a story about mermaids, of course there are lots of references to oceans, riptides, and even the Starbucks logo. But there are also humorous observations about teenage girls, satiric portrayals of Hollywood, themes of feminist strength, and a subplot about saving the world from climate change.
This is a clever and unique novel that I thoroughly enjoyed, even if I wasn’t sure what actually happened at the conclusion – and that was after I went back and read the last few chapters a second time. It didn’t really matter because it was still a satisfying, “fabulously insightful tale of two female characters in search of truth, love, and self-acceptance as they move between worlds without giving up their voices.” I highly recommend. ( )