Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Featured Book - The Old Mermaid's Tale

The Old Mermaid's Tale
Kathleen Valentine

The Old Mermaid's Tale 
Before the Edmund Fitzgerald there was the Carl D. Bradley, the William B. Davet, the Betty Hedger, the American Sailor and many more...In 1959 the St. Lawrence Seaway opened to international commerce creating a problem for seaport towns bordering the Great Lakes. Within the first year over a thousand barges and tankers from all over the world arrived at these seaports to unload, re-outfit and reload. While waiting, the crew, that had been at sea for weeks, went ashore looking for fun and companionship. Restaurants, bars, pool halls, rooming houses, tattoo parlors, and rumors of other - less savory - forms of entertainment sprang up in the blocks surrounding the commercial docks. Those parts of town acquired a deservedly terrible reputation.
When Clair Wagner begins college in Port Presque Isle she dreams of meeting a "handsome sailor with the constellations of the Northern Seas in his eyes". Into her life comes Pio, a beautiful Italian fisherman, who dreams of life on the big lakes under the aurora borealis. She meets Gary, the dashing son of a wealthy shipping magnate, who introduces her to Canal Street where she encounters The Old Mermaid Inn, a tavern that, as Gary tells her, "deserves its reputation".
But The Old Mermaid Inn, with its giant painting of a seductive mermaid, is home to some fascinating people including Tessie, the owner and original mermaid, and the intriguing Baptiste, a Breton mariner injured in a shipwreck, who earns his living as a musician.
With Pio, Clair discovers passion, with Gary she gains entry into the world of the commercial waterfront, and with Baptiste she discovers all-consuming love. But as her relationship with Baptiste grows she discovers he is far more complex and mysterious than she could imagine. He has secrets and his secrets will alter her life forever.
Set against this background - and that of the maritime and sea legends of the Great Lakes - The Old Mermaid's Tale weaves a romance that pays homage to the importance of stories in our lives.

I was totally captivated by Clair Wagner, the storyteller of Valentine's lyrical novel, The Old Mermaid's Tale. 

The story is set in a 1960's Lake Erie town. It's Clair's coming-of-age tale mixed with two love stories: Clair and Baptiste sandwiched between Clair and Pio. 

Valentine sprinkles her book with delicious folklore tidbits: Baptiste's Breton sea-lore, Lake Erie seamen tales, and tales and folk music from the early sixties. The setting evokes memories of the unique life of each town before chain stores and hotels took over. 

The characters are full-bodied. Sal, Baptiste, Tessie, Pio: they all deserve their own books. Valentine teased me with glimpses of their lives outside of the confines of this tale, and she left me with a longing to know more. 

I was afraid that this would be too much of a "girly" book for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and was sorry when I finished it. I'm looking forward to more tales from Valentine. - Dennis Batchelder, author of "Soul Identity"
Author's Website:  www.OldMermaid'
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