PASSIONATE, TRANSCENDENT! A GREAT NOVEL!,
October 15, 2011
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This review is from: The Old Mermaid's Tale (Kindle Edition)
If we are fortunate, sometimes a novel interrupts our lives with its grandeur, superlative writing, its memorable, heroic characters. THE OLD MERMAID'S TALE is such a book. Instantly intriguing, wildly imaginative and informative, it swept me into the Great Lakes region of the United States, bodies of water I had always thought of as mysterious, even mythical. With the Great Lakes as background, Kathleen Valentine has created a tale of Everywoman who has ever been drawn to the unknown, even the forbidden, in search of her destiny.
In the 1960's, Claire Wagner, from rural Ohio, enrolls in college in Western Pennsylvania on the shores of Lake Erie and as we follow her life-journey we forget her youth, as she is drawn into the dark, seedy edges of the waterfront town of Port Presque Isle, a seaman's town abounding in history, legends, dark secrets. As each year passes, Claire inevitably wanders from the safe academic path into the lives of the town's seafarers and their women - their passions and tragedies - in a way that will alter her life forever as she becomes part of their history, their lore.
It is in the minutely detailed and beautiful writing that the legends of the Great Lakes, their maritime history, comes stunningly alive. And in that same way the characters come alive, rich and vivid, each offering their personal epic so that they become memorable, and resonate long after the novel ends. People move in and out of Claire's life, each on their own existential errand, but it is Pio, the handsome seaman who first awakens her to sexual passion, and Baptiste, the magnificent, heartbreaking Breton, who will guide her, transform her and become the enduring love of her life. These are seafarers whose lives have been defined by the cruel obliquities of mighty lakes and oceans, and in that sense they represent Man, his human fragility against the forces of Nature. On a second reading of this novel, I saw them in a broader, Biblical sense and the book took on a new depth of meaning.
Some readers might call this an historical-romance novel. But for me, THE OLD MERMAID'S TALE transcends mere genre. It is writing on a epic scale, addressing tales of grand proportions -life, death, joy, sorrow, love, and always the quest for the meaning of existence. And it is accomplished with superbly-crafted writing, a joyous and lavish exuberance of descriptions, an appreciation of folk music and classical music, and of languages. There is so much to love here.
Let me also applaud indelible scenes of poetry that summon up the senses. The intoxicating smell and stickiness and crimson stains on a mother's fingers as she pits bowls of cherries. The rhapsodic sounds and smells and flavours of a homemade Italian dinner. And the visual beauty of that Italian family. The rusty, mildewed smell of old seamen, and the briny, ancient odors of their taverns. The smell of unwashed women, and of loneliness. And the blinding and near-deafening of a massive ice-storm, that leaves the town as if buried under shattered glass, "a world encrusted in diamonds." And, most memorable, the sensuous tastes and textures and scents of Baptiste's body as Claire maps his wondrous geography.
Near the end of the novel, a characters asks, "How can we know if what we remember is truly ours to remember and not some fragment that has claimed us? Even in the face of what seems real, to whose version of reality is it bound?" This, too is poetry, a philosophical musing not meant to be answered, only posed. For such questions give the reader pause, and add to our depth as thinking humans.
At the end of THE OLD MERMAID'S TALE I bowed my head in wonder at what Kathleen Valentine has accomplished, a novel that is a treasure-house of the Great Lakes maritime history and lore. But more importantly, a magnificent story of obsession and redemption, of finding one's destiny, then finding one's way home. Here is an old-fashioned story that transports us and educates us as epic novels do, a story that reminds us of the power of unconditional love, and of the miracle and brevity of our human existence.
I want to reiterate what another reviewer has said: 'THE OLD MERMAID'S TALE raises the bar for those publishing independently. It casts adrift the myth that indie-published novels are inferior to novels published traditionally.' Amen. This is a great novel. Like great novels, it engaged all my emotions, and I wept at the end. I feel privileged to have read it. Thank you, Kathleen Valentine
Kiana Davenport, author of CANNIBAL NIGHTS, PACIFIC STORIES, Volume II
I appreciate her words so much and I cannot wait to read her other novels. There is nothing quite so thrilling and also humbling for a writer than support for our work -- especially from one of our literary goddesses.
Thanks for reading.