Thursday, April 7, 2011

Swimmingly

So, what I said earlier about liking the fact that authors are dead so that there is a limited universe of their work does not apply when the author is just getting started and needs more time to write more books. It does not apply to Siobhan Dowd, nor to L.K. Madigan. Madigan, a Portland author, died last month way too young. She'd published just two books: Flash Burnout, winner of the 2010 William C. Morris Debut YA Novel Award, and The Mermaid's Mirror. I really enjoyed Flash Burnout and so, in Madigan's honor, I downloaded The Mermaid's Mirror for a listen.

Lena has grown up near the Pacific Ocean, but her father has forbidden her to learn to surf. He suffered a near-fatal accident about the time that Lena's mother died and has been afraid to get back on his board. He remarried, and Lena has lived in a secure and loving home with her parents and her younger brother Cole. At 16, Lena begins to chafe under her father's proscription and she begins to learn to surf in secret. She's also been having some odd physical episodes: She's sleepwalked to an isolated beach cove, entered a fugue state several times, and fainted on a trip to San Francisco. During another visit to that cove, Lena is certain that she saw a head and shoulders bobbing in the waves. She hopes the surfing lessons will enable her to paddle out and see for certain what is out there.

What is there, of course, is a mermaid. And when Lena risks her life trying to reach her, the mermaid saves her, slipping an old-fashioned, golden key into her hand. When Lena finds the object opened by that key, she learns a family secret that makes her deeply (I thought too deeply) angry.

Oh, for heaven's sake! Spoiler: Lena's mother is a mermaid! [Doesn't the lore of mermaids come from sailors' sightings of manatees? These Florida manatees come via the Encyclopedia of Life.]

Lena follows her mother -- using her mother's sealskin cloak to help her lungs breathe water -- into the merpeople's kingdom. And I won't spoil it any more than that.

Sadly, I didn't much care for this. I found Lena whiny and tantrum-prone. Her journey wasn't so much one of personal growth and discovery (a natural for a teen novel), as a selfish run to the parent that "understands" her. The time under the sea turned into a teen romance -- complete with a merman with chiseled chest (no, no ... not the chest!) and green-gold hair. The other characters in the novel weren't very interesting or original (except maybe for her stepmother's nurse-midwife mother, who delivered Lena in secret, just in case there were complications ... but that's another novel). I wasn't ever in any doubt about which world Lena would choose, and when she does choose she seemed to throw off the losing parent with no long-lasting heartache (considering how much complaining she had done earlier).

And I think part of why I didn't like Lena was that the novel's narrator, Katie Schorr, seemed only to be able to portray Lena's whiny side. Her soft, high-pitched voice had a sameness that grew tiresome to listen to. There was also a fair amount of painful sibilance. (I think that this condition -- which is pretty much in all our voices -- is exacerbated in downloadable books ... is it my cheap player?) There are many opportunities to sing in the novel, but nearly all of the lyrics are spoken. Some of the songs are originals, so I didn't understand why there wasn't singing. I wouldn't have noticed this particularly, except that one song was sung (several times) -- an adaptation (I think) of "By the Light of the Silvery Moon." Schorr's singing voice is lovely and I wish I'd been able to hear more of it.

Did you notice on Schorr's website that she refers to narrating this book for Audible.com (about halfway down the "Latest News"). The book's ending credits refer to Audible, but gives the copyright to Brilliance Audio. (I've deleted it which means I can't quote it exactly.) I knew that Amazon.com acquired Brilliance, which I thought made them a direct competitor to Audible. And then there's the whole Audible download vs. Overdrive download. It's best that I don't think about these things ...

The Mermaid's Mirror by L.K. Madigan
Narrated by Katie Schorr
Brilliance Audio, 2010. 7:23

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