If the mermaid doesn’t swim back to the sea, but instead goes ashore, she will learn to walk on two legs. Perhaps, she will even learn to dance…… In her early thirties, Summer lives alone, jobless, with little material wants.
Her only passion is dancing. To be more specific, ballroom dancing. She is at an awkward position: she started too late to be competition-worthy, yet takes dancing far too seriously to be a mere pastime.
Her solitary existence poses another obstacle: you need a partner in the ballroom, where “men lead, women follow” is the ironclad rule. Under the tutelage of the legendary Donny, Summer embarks on a journey of self-discovery and, perhaps more importantly, in search of the perfect partner. Her hopes are dashed again and again as she witnesses (and sometimes partners with) the colorful characters in the ballroom: the arrogant youngster Youlin from a dancing dynasty; the talented Grace who wants nothing but an ordinary life; and the petite Meixin, forever at war with her fiance/partner.
There is of course Donny, the gay dancer ferociously committed to competition and every bit as traditional as most straight men. As Summer continues her pursuit for Mr Right, she is forced to confront the dark memories of her past: the slut-shaming from her control-freak mother, the attempted suicide of her cousin, and the painful humiliation of sex with a classmate. She dreams of the perfect dancing body, yet dreads her own sexuality.
The Mermaid’s Tale is a beautiful solo dance of a novel. It brings to mind the exploration of the female body in The Vegetarian and the madness of the dance world of Black Swan, but is told in a lighter voice at once dreamy, whimsical, and scintillating. Written in the author’s darkest days, it is nevertheless a book about life and freedom.