Author Michael Lee West is one of the south’s treasures as she’s shown with her previous works set amongst the live oaks and Spanish moss. Mermaids in the Basement is a worthy addition to her funny and convoluted tales of the modern day south and the resilient (and sometimes off-beat) women who live there.
No blowsy magnolia blossom, screenwriter Renata is down and depressed by her mother and step-father’s unexpected death in a plane crash several months prior to the opening of the story. She has a distant and superficial relationship with her father, who is about to marry a very young trophy wife. Her writer’s block is flaring up even as the latest deadline on a crap screenplay is due. And to cap it all off, she sees a tabloid showing her boyfriend, a successful director, in a clinch with the latest Hollywood “It girl” on location in Ireland. After an unproductive call to boyfriend Ferg, a few too many drinks, a bonfire, and alcohol-inspired Fed-Exing, all of which turn out to have been Bad Ideas, Renata finds a letter from her mother marked to be read only in case of an emergency. This letter drives Renata’s flight to her paternal grandmother’s home in coastal Alabama to find out the truth behind her parents' life together. Once home, matriarch and grande dame Honora, former nanny Gladys, and long-time family friend and former actress Isabelle conspire to help Renata find the steel in her backbone, share the skeletons in the family closet with her, and show her that her future, while anchored on the past, can be made to suit the person she is becoming.
Filled with grand parties, shocking revelations, and more side plots than you can shake a stick at, West has created her trademark eccentric but entirely believable characters and plot. She has a way with the turn of a phrase that sometimes doesn't dawn on the reader until they are a paragraph further on but will still elicit a bark of laughter. This is a snappy, witty, and fun read that sucks you and and doesn't let you go, through both the unconventional, crazy happenings and the more mundane. And it will make you a bit sad you don't have characters like this in your real life, because honey, you know they'd take you for some wild ride. An easy, smooth read, West does tackle some heavier topics than calling this a breezy romantic novel would suggest. And she handles them deftly, not allowing them to destroy the light touch of the whole. This is one I definitely recommend.