Mermaids in the Basement by Michael Lee West

Mermaids in the Basement

 Michael Lee West’s Mermaids in the Basement finds screenwriter Renata DeChavannes grieving from the recent loss of her mother and stepfather in an airplane crash. She retreats to her family home in the Outer Banks where she eats uncontrollably. While she is buying her movie-producer boyfriend a sweater in a little clothing store, she happens to see the tabloid article telling that her absent love is rumored to be dating his latest movie’s star in faraway Dublin.

Devastated, her drinking, too, begins to get out of control. One night, a drunken Renata has a beach bonfire and burns her manuscript. When she wakes up not knowing what she has done, she looks through all of her drawers to find it but instead discovers a letter from her mother instructing her to contact her paternal grandmother in order to find out the stories of her mother’s “dirty deeds.”

Renata goes home to the Gulf Coast of Alabama to see her grandmother, Honora, and unravel the tumultuous and often volatile love stories and affairs of both her mother and father. Once Renata is surrounded by her grandmother and her friends there are parts in this book that made me laugh out loud. Her grandmother’s friend Isabella is an aging retired actress who loves to slip valium or ex-lax--whatever she has at hand--into the food at parties.

Renata hopes to reconcile with her womanizing father who is now engaged to be married for the fourth time to an extremely petite, twenty-something girl with a squeaky voice named Joie. However when Joie turns up bloody and comatose during their engagement party, Renata is the prime suspect. While the police investigate the incident as an assault, Renata continues to rummage through an old trunk, trying to discover more secrets of her parents’ past.
Mermaids in the Basement is a great beach read full of southern charm and quirky characters. The tapestry of family secrets that unravels in this book is a pure delight – sometimes funny, sometimes sad. This is a love story – the love story of Renata’s birth mother and father. However, it is more than that. It is the story of how fear can highjack our lives and take us down a path that is not where we want to go.