RETURN TO THE CLASSICS: LITTLE WOMEN THE NOVEMBER BOOK GROUP SELECTION

After a stimulating discussion of the effects of war on people, good and evil and other deep topics in our review of The Nightingale, the Field Notes Book Group voted for the book we’re going to be reading and discussing in November: the ever classic Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  Right before we voted for the book, I asked for a show of hands for everyone who has read the book in the past, and all of us raised our hands, though many people hadn’t read it in years (myself included; the last time I read it was when I was 12, which was a LONG time ago).

It’s not a book that needs much introduction, since not only has it been read for over 200 years but it’s been made into movies numerous times and (just to show that it’s still a big deal even in 2018) is currently both being made into a movie to come out in 2019 and the subject of a nonfiction book, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux.  Even if you’ve never read the book, you’ve almost certainly been exposed to one of the movies, whether with Katherine Hepburn or Elizabeth Taylor or Winona Ryder, and if you’ve read the book a long time ago, it’s always interesting to take another look, as an adult with different life experiences, at a book you read and loved as a child or teenager.  For instance, I want to see if I still, as an adult, think Amy is a totally annoying brat, or if I can find some way in which Jo’s marriage makes sense for her character.

The book group will be meeting on Saturday, November 17, from 11 to 12:30 in the Field Library Gallery, as usual, and we will have coffee and donuts to keep us going through our vigorous discussions.  Copies of the book will be available at The Field Library circulation desk probably later this week, so come in and pick up your copy and get ready for a blast from the past with the next Field Notes Book Group.

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ONE WAY TO HEAL OUR BROKEN SOCIETY: PALACES FOR THE PEOPLE

I confess it: I’m a sucker for the big concept nonfiction book, much more than I am for other kinds of nonfiction.  You know what I’m talking about: the book that takes on the large issues with a twist, something I wouldn’t have considered before. I’m not really interested in the books that tell us we’re doomed and there’s nothing anyone can do (or there’s nothing anyone can do that’s remotely practical); my feeling is, if that’s the case, why even bother reading about it?  A recent book that offers fascinating and (at least to me) novel solutions to America’s problems is Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization and the Decline of Civic Life, by Eric Klinenberg, and I recommend it highly for anyone who wants to think about how we can make America work better.

Klinenberg starts out with a provocative scenario, a terrible heat wave in Chicago that resulted in a number of deaths in poorer neighborhoods.  The interesting thing was that two neighborhoods, in close proximity, with similar demographics (income level, ethnic distribution, etc.) had wildly different death rates.  Why did more people survive in one neighborhood than in the other? Asking that question led to deeper questions about resilience and what makes one neighborhood or one housing project work while another turns into a disaster area, and this brought him to the heart of this book, the question of what social infrastructure is, how it works, and how we can make more of it.

This is a book full of anecdotes and stories, not a lot of dull statistics.  The author begins with an easy and familiar illustration of what social infrastructure is, by taking us to a branch of the New York Public Library.  Now, I’m not going to lie: obviously I’m a big booster of libraries, and anyone who praises libraries is already on my good side, but he does more than just talk up all the programs the libraries provide. He demonstrates how a good public library is a place that brings together people of different social and economic classes, building relationships between and among people who might not ever have anything to do with each other socially otherwise. He then progresses to other examples, some obvious (when they’re pointed out) and some surprising, until it’s clear he knows what he’s talking about and the promise of his subtitle (and do all nonfiction books have to have subtitles?  Is there some kind of rule about that?) seems well-grounded and not an empty promise to sell books.

One of the more eye-opening chapters talks about the infamous “broken windows” theory of policing (you know, where bad actors see that things aren’t kept up and therefore feel free to steal, sell drugs and engage in other illegal activities without fear of reprisal, so therefore the police crack down on the small offenses to prevent the big ones from happening), and turns it around, focusing on the abandoned properties that are usually part of the initial supposition of the theory.  He studies neighborhoods where those abandoned properties are turned into community parks and gardens, and how that changes the whole feel of the neighborhood, lowering its crime in the process. This chapter was excerpted in a recent New Yorker issue, so it may sound familiar to you, but it’s nonetheless fascinating and very plausible.

The author’s agenda isn’t right wing or left wing, but very practical: he wants Americans to have a civic life again, and to be more resilient in the face of disasters or near disasters, and his ideas for how we can achieve these goals are backed up by evidence and seem extremely reasonable.  For a good read about important issues and a fascinating look into urban planning and how that impacts our lives, check out Palaces for the People.  You won’t regret it.

HOT NEW FICTION FROM BESTSELLERS FOR OCTOBER

October is a great month for bestsellers, and this month many of the most popular fiction writers have come out or are coming out with new books for your reading pleasure, all of which are here at The Field Library, ready to be checked out.

Of course, if you’re talking about bestsellers, you have to start with James Patterson, who never lets a month go by without releasing another book in one of his series.  This month, his new book is Ambush, in the Michael Bennett series. The book starts with a bang, literally: a crime tip turns into a setup and a police officer is killed. It should have been Michael Bennett, and he comes to realize, through a string of other murders, leads that turn out to be fake, and attempts on his own children, that the killer is someone who’s got a grudge against him personally, and who is willing to go a long way to get rid of Michael Bennett.  The plot twists and turns as Bennett tries to figure out who this unknown killer is and what his ultimate plan is, before he becomes the last victim.

Stuart Woods is another perennial bestseller with his Stone Barrington series, and his latest is Desperate Measures. In this book, Barrington meets a stunning woman who seems ideally suited to helping him professionally and possibly personally as well, but no sooner does he hire her than a series of disturbing crimes takes place, all pointing to the likelihood that she might be the next intended target. Barrington has to use all his skills and connections to protect the lady and discover who’s behind the attacks and what’s really going on.

In The Reckoning, John Grisham returns to the South for a twisting suspense novel about a surprising murder.  Set in 1946, in Clanton, Mississippi, the book’s protagonist is a seeming golden man, Pete Banning.  A World War II vet, member of a prominent local family, farmer, neighbor, and member of the Methodist Church, Pete seems to have it all, until the day he walks into his church and guns down his pastor and friend in cold blood.  Then, to make it more complicated, he refuses to say anything about the crime beyond “I have nothing to say.” His defense attorney, desperately trying to keep him from the death penalty, digs deeply into Pete’s history, from the jungles of the Philippines during the war to the intricacies of Jim Crow laws to an insane asylum, trying to find the answers Pete refuses to give for himself.

Michael Connelly has recently branched out from his Harry Bosch series to a new series, featuring Renee Ballard, working on the night shift in the LAPD.  In his newest book, however, to the delight of his many fans, he brings together the characters from both series. Dark Sacred Night starts with Ballard coming to her desk one night to find a stranger rifling through some old files.  The stranger is Harry Bosch, now retired but still haunted by one case from his past. Regulations require Ballard to stop Bosch from going through the old case files, but she’s the kind of person who can’t let things go herself, so after he’s gone, she starts looking into the case, which involved the brutal murder of a 15 year old runaway, and she’s intrigued enough to go to Bosch and offer to work with him to solve the cold case.  What could be more fun for a reader than seeing these two characters working together, especially when the case takes a dangerous turn that tests their growing trust in each other?

While you would expect a Stephen King book released at the end of October to be one of his horror novels, he takes a surprising turn in Elevation, his newest book, which is more of a thriller than a straight horror or supernatural novel. The protagonist is Scott Carey, living in Castle Rock (scene of many of King’s books and stories).  His neighbors, a married lesbian couple, have a dog that keeps defecating on Scott’s lawn, and Scott is engaged in a low level feud with them over this. He is also suffering from an odd ailment in which he keeps losing weight for no apparent reason, and he weighs the same no matter what he’s wearing or not wearing. He’s unwilling to go through medical procedures to determine what’s going on with him, but he shares his concerns with his family doctor, just so someone will know.  In the meantime, the lesbian couple is trying to run a new restaurant in town, but the town’s prejudice against a gay married couple is making this extremely difficult. As Scott comes to understand his neighbors and the prejudice they’re facing, he begins to find common ground with them. His strange affliction brings the town together in unlikely but moving ways, in a book that’s been compared to It’s a Wonderful Life (and how unusual is that for Stephen King!).

So follow your favorite authors right here to The Field Library and check out their latest!

NEW DYSTOPIAN WESTERN. . . WESTERN??

The kind of writer I admire is the one who’s not afraid to branch out.  Sure, it’s easy enough to keep writing the same series forever, with the same characters and similar plots, and it’s often very lucrative (consider the late Sue Grafton, for instance, a longtime bestseller, with her alphabet novels; consider Stuart Woods and Clive Cussler for still-living examples).  Sometimes people even continue writing books under those authors’ names long after their deaths (look at all the books in Tom Clancy’s series, or in Robert Ludlum’s, or Robert Parker’s, and let’s not even talk about V. C. Andrews), and while I can understand the motivation (money), to me, a writer who’s willing to branch out, even a little, gets more respect.  You have people like Walter Mosley, who have written mysteries, speculative fiction, and nonfiction, and you have people like Charlaine Harris, who is not content to rest on her laurels for the Sookie Stackhouse novels (the basis for the television series True Blood) but has branched out into other fields, including today’s focus, the realm of dystopias, in her new book An Easy Death.

An Easy Death takes place in a post-apocalyptic southwestern United States.  There is no U.S. anymore, not since the assassination of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Great Depression.  There’s a number of smaller countries, including Texoma, where our story is set.

Lizbeth Rose, known as Gunnie Rose, is a mercenary gunslinger who has never yet lost a client, and so has an impressive reputation despite her youth.  After a particularly bruising job across the border, Lizbeth Rose is hired by a pair of Russian wizards to be their guide and protector as they search with increasing desperation through the border towns for a particular low-level magic practitioner who MAY be a direct descendant of the legendary Grigori Rasputin. What they don’t tell Lizbeth Rose is that they’re hoping this young man’s blood will cure the young tsar.

As the group begins its search, they are almost immediately attacked by various enemies.  Someone or something doesn’t want them to find this particular young wizard, and Gunnie Rose has to put her reputation and her life on the line to make sure she and her wizard clients can survive this mission.

Take a western with magic, a gunslinger working for wizards, a dystopian world that’s both recognizable and disturbingly different from the world we know, and add all the worldbuilding and  character development for which Charlaine Harris is justly famous, and you have a book that’s guaranteed to be a good read. The only caveat I have to offer is that it’s the first book in a series, and we all know my feeling about unfinished series (especially when there are cliffhangers in any of the early books), but we can pretend we don’t know that there’s any other books coming and enjoy this as a standalone.

THE LAST OF MURDERBOT

“I was having an emotion, and I hate that.”

You read a line like that and you know you’re reading yet another of the Murderbot Diaries.  Exit Strategy, the latest book in the series (and possibly the last one) by Martha Wells, brings the whole story arc that began back in All Systems Red to a satisfying conclusion. Delighted as I am (and you know I am) to have another Murderbot book to devour (I read it in a day), I’m still a little sorry to have finished it, not because it’s a disappointment (it is most definitely NOT a disappointment), but because now I don’t have any new books in the series to anticipate.

Murderbot has had all kinds of adventures since it last encountered the humans from the Preservation system in All Systems Red, including discovering the reason it thought of itself as Murderbot, the reason it destroyed its control system, and some incredibly bad shenanigans of GrayCris Corporation, which is now fighting against Dr. Mensah and the other colonists. In fact, under the guise of “negotiating” with the Preservation people, GrayCris has taken Dr. Mensah hostage, and it is up to Murderbot to get the damning evidence of GrayCris’ illegal behavior to Dr. Mensah and save her from whatever horrible fate GrayCris had in mind for her.  Naturally this would be much easier if Murderbot was an ordinary Security bot, but since it freed itself, it doesn’t have the same firepower as it used to have, but what it’s gained is cunning and the ability to tap into other bots’ systems and use them for its own purposes. Murderbot has now dropped the pretense that it doesn’t care about human beings or want to protect them; these humans are important to it, especially Dr. Mensah who freed it from its official servitude.

As has been the case throughout the series, the book is filled with action, fighting and plotting and escaping from danger and causing more danger. It’s a pleasure to watch Murderbot manipulate other computers and bots, and even humans, into helping it, as it puts into place “what I was designating as Operation Not Actually A Completely Terrible Plan.”  The real fun is Murderbot’s narration, a voice filled with snark and sarcasm and a certain charm as well.  Over the course of the four books, Murderbot’s character has developed and grown, and what started out as something like what would have happened in the movie Alien if the AI had had a heart and a real desire to protect the humans has now turned into a story about the relationship between robots and human beings, between human beings and corporations, and about the possibilities for change.

If you’ve read any of the (short!) books in this series, you don’t need me to tell you to rush out and read the last one.  And if you haven’t started with Murderbot (possibly because you’re following my rule of not starting a series until the final volume has been written), now is the perfect time to get out All Systems Red  and read all four straight through.

And, while I realize that the story arc has been wrapped up and justice has been done and the ending is quite satisfying, I can’t help but hope that maybe Martha Wells will add some new volumes of adventures to Murderbot’s saga. Such a wonderful character deserves more.  

A MAGICAL VERSION OF THE FOUNDING OF LIBERIA

What genre would you think you were in if you had characters who could  survive being bitten by a viper and left for dead, who showed superhuman strength, or who could fade into invisibility when called by the earth?  What if this same book showed characters surviving slavery in America and in Jamaica, joining together with an African exile to help create a new nation for freed American slaves? If you’re thinking this is magical realism mixed with historical fiction, that’s probably as close as you can come to characterizing the newest book selection for Sarah Jessica Parker’s Book Club, She Would Be King, by Wayetu Moore.

Gbessa, the one who, if she were a man, would be king (the title of the book), is a witch who, it turns out, cannot die.  She’s been exiled from her West African village, starved, bitten by a viper and left for dead, but she survives it all and makes her way to Monrovia, the settlement that will be the capital of the nation of Liberia.  June Dey is a slave on a plantation in Virginia, and he has been hiding his superhuman strength from everyone until one day when he is pushed to his limits by an overseer and ends up having to flee the country. Norman Aragon is the child of a white British colonizer and a Jamaican slave, and he has the power to fade into near invisibility when the earth calls upon him, as his mother did before him  These three characters meet in the jungles outside of Monrovia, in what will become Liberia, and realize (with some help from the wind, which is the narrator of the book and a character in its own right) that their special talents need to be joined together to help them and their people overcome the barriers that keep them oppressed.

Not many people know about Liberia, about its founding as a homeland for freed American slaves, or about the difficult issues that arose when once again a colonizing power set new people into a land that was already occupied by other people who had been living there for centuries.  She Would Be King is not, strictly speaking, historical fiction (there’s too much magic in it for that), but it is a debut novel that serves as an introduction to the historical reality of the founding and early days of the nation of Liberia and its close relationship over the years with the United States of America. A novel with a huge canvas and a sweeping sense of history and of the African diaspora, She Would Be King is a fascinating choice for Sarah Jessica Parker, and for adventurous readers here as well.

CREEPY NEW OCTOBER READS

Though you wouldn’t be able to guess it from the weather we’ve been having so far, it is in fact October and that means we’re heading towards Halloween, one of my favorite holidays of the year.  To get you into the mood that the weather is trying to undermine, how about checking out a couple of new creepy books here at The Field Library?

We could, of course, start with the classics, and one of the great scary classics is Dracula, by Bram Stoker.  I’ve already recommended this book in the past, because even people who are familiar with the basic story (a group that pretty much includes everybody, especially this time of year) can be surprised at the way Stoker tells it.  But if you’ve already read the ur text and you’re totally familiar with the book, perhaps a different take on the origins of the story could breathe new life into it and bring you a greater appreciation for both Dracula and his famous author.  In that case, let me suggest Dracul, by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker.  If you’re noticing the name of the first author and wondering about it, yes, Dacre is a descendant of the famous Bram, and is using Bram Stoker’s original notes as inspiration and shaping of this book.  The protagonist of the book is Bram Stoker himself, facing the inspiration for the vampire he later wrote about. As a boy, Bram was bedridden in his parents’ Dublin home, and spent much of his time under the supervision of the young Ellen Crone.  While she was taking care of Bram and his sister, there were a number of suspicious deaths in the neighborhood, coupled with some seriously strange behavior on Ellen’s part, which culminated in her unexpected disappearance from their lives. Then, years later, Bram’s sister returns from Paris to tell him that she’s seen Ellen again, and that the whole nightmare of their childhood is returning to life. Of course we’re thinking Ellen is a real vampire, but is she?  

For a different kind of creepiness (the type fans of the original version of Wicker Man might enjoy), there’s also Devil’s Day, by Andrew Michael Hurley. John Pentecost, the protagonist of the book, grew up in a remote village by the edge of the moors. Every year, John returns to help bring the sheep down from the moors before the winter comes, and every year his grandfather, the Gaffer, would perform a ritual to mark the boundaries of the village and keep the devil out for another year. The ancient ritual involves drawing the boundaries with pen and paper but also involves telling particular stories and performing other acts that seem unusual and maybe meaningless. This year, however, John returns to his home village with his new wife, and this year the Gaffer has died, and this year things are different, and the villagers aren’t sure whether the devil actually has been kept out or not, whether the Gaffer’s actions were necessary to protect them from an ancient evil that might be moving in on them now.

Ancient evils, possible vampires, the movement of the devil through the affairs of human beings: what better way to get yourself ready for Halloween than to dive into these new and creepy books?  Come and get them at The Field, before it’s too late.

 

MYCROFT AND SHERLOCK : THE MISSING YEARS

There is something utterly charming about the thought of Kareem Abdul Jabbar, known to many of us as a formidable basketball player in his younger days, writing books about Mycroft (the older brother of Sherlock) Holmes.  Part of it is Abdul Jabbar’s explanation of his long time fandom of the Holmes stories, something I personally wouldn’t have imagined but that makes me like him more (considering that I was and am a staunch New York Knicks fan and Abdul Jabbar played against the Knicks for years, it would take a lot for me to think kindly of him).  His first novel, Mycroft Holmes, came out a few years ago and focused on Sherlock’s brilliant older brother (a minor character in the canon, brought to interesting life by this book), and now he’s branching out with Mycroft and Sherlock, which brings a young Sherlock into the mix.  If you liked Mycroft Holmes, you definitely need to check out Mycroft and Sherlock.

The book starts in 1872 with Mycroft, a rising 26 year old in the British War Department, and his younger brother, Sherlock, already showing what Mycroft considers a morbid interest in crime and murder, to the detriment of his studies.  A series of gruesome murders takes place in London, to Sherlock’s fascination and Mycroft’s utter disinterest. Mycroft persuades his brother to work as a tutor at Mycroft’s friend’s orphanage, and there Sherlock develops a rapport with the street urchins who are living there (foreshadowing, of course, the Baker Street Irregulars whom the famous Sherlock Holmes would use as his eyes and ears, especially in the early cases).  When one of those urchins is murdered, Sherlock naturally takes a deep interest and starts investigating the circumstances of his death. This brings Sherlock deep into the underbelly of London’s opium trade.

Coincidentally, or not so coincidentally, Mycroft meets with a mysterious Chinese woman who leads him into the same mystery from a different angle, and Mycroft is forced to confront the extent to which the illegal and dangerous opium trade is bankrolling his beloved British empire.

Sooner or later the two brothers are going to have to work together. The stakes are so high neither one can afford to do without the expertise of the other. But the relationship between Sherlock and Mycroft hasn’t been all that close before this, and they are going to have to learn how to trust each other when their whole lives have been marked by the secrets they’re keeping from each other.

If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, whether from the books or from the movies or various television series, check out Mycroft and Sherlock for a different, and intriguing, perspective on the famous detective’s origins, as well as a ripping good yarn in its own right.

THE 2018 MAN BOOKER PRIZE SHORTLIST BOOKS AT THE FIELD

Every year around this time, the Man Booker prize committee selects the shortlist for the prestigious award, considered to be THE prize for high quality literary fiction published in the English language.  The prize itself will be awarded on October 16, so watch this space for the winner. In the meantime, if you’d like to sample what the committee believes to be the best of the best, you’re in luck, because all of the shortlist nominees that are available in the United States are here at The Field Library (some of the books on the shortlist haven’t yet been published here).

The Mars Room, by Rachel Kushner, is about Romy Hall, a woman starting the first of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility in California, as a result of her killing a man who had been stalking her with increasing dangerousness.  Her lawyer was incompetent and she basically didn’t stand a chance of acquittal or even of a lesser sentence, so here she is, cut off from her former life and from her 7 year old child whom she probably will never see again. In the place of the world of San Francisco, her life of strip clubs and drugs, she’s now faced with a new society in prison, with the society and rules created and enforced by her fellow prisoners and her guards, and she has to do whatever she can to survive.  The book is narrated by many different voices (including that of the unabomber, and that of Romy’s stalker), which, together with its subject matter, makes is anything but an easy read, but Romy’s bitter reality is a terrific perspective for examining our whole justice system, our sense of crime and punishment.

In some ways, The Overstory, by Richard Powers, is the opposite of The Mars Room.  This book focuses on the outdoor world, specifically the world of trees and the people who interact with trees, but in the breadth of its characters and scenes and the vastness of its interconnectedness, it’s a good match for the vividness of The Mars Room.  I’ve already written about this book here, and if you haven’t checked it out yet, this would be a good time to do so.

The newest book to reach the shortlist is Washington Black, by the Canadian author Esi Edugyan. It just came out in September (last week, in fact), and it is an audacious historical novel about a boy born in slavery in Barbados in 1820’s Barbados, who becomes the assistant to an eccentric naturalist and explorer, and, as a result, manages to escape his background and discover his own unique artistic talents. It’s partly an adventure story (Wash, as he’s known, flies in a hot air balloon, a thing nearly unimaginable to him, and finds his way across the United States and even to the Arctic), but it’s also partly and more seriously a look at slavery and racism, a coming of age for a young man with extraordinary abilities and talents who will always be restricted from getting credit for his achievements because of his race. If you steer away from literary fiction or Man Booker Prize winners because you’re reluctant to deal with the narrative tricks and techniques many of them display (like Lincoln in the Bardo, with its confusing multiple voices), you should definitely read Washington Black.

It’s possible that none of these three will be the winner; there are three other books on the shortlist which aren’t available anywhere in the U.S. yet (though if a book wins the prize, odds are it will be published here in the near future), and one of them might win the prize.  Even so, you can have the pleasure of checking out some of the books the Man Booker committee feels are the best ones written in English this year.

 

THE NOT SO LITTLE MERMAN: MERMAID BOYS

The high concept or logline description of Yomi Sarachi’s Mermaid Boys would be: imagine The Little Mermaid (either the original Hans Christian Andersen version or the Disney version) with the genders reversed.  

And there are a certain number of similarities between the two stories: in both versions there’s a member of the mermaid royal family who’s fascinated by the world of the humans, much to the chagrin of the rest of the royal family and the society.  In both versions there’s a human of the opposite sex who falls into the water and is nearly drowned, and the royal mermaid/merman saves the human’s life. In both cases, the human wakes after the mer-person is gone, and a human being of the mer-person’s gender appears to take the credit for the rescue.  In both, the mer-person makes a deal with an undersea magic-worker to become human for a time, at a cost which the mer-person pays, and then the mer-person has to win the heart of the person she or he saved.

However, despite all these similarities, Mermaid Boys is NOT merely a manga version of the popular story with the genders reversed.  This series is doing something more subversive and more interesting and, having read the first volume, I am now eager to continue with the series and see where the author goes with the characters.

Prince Naru, our protagonist, is the epitome of a privileged, even spoiled, royal at the outset of the story.  He’s gorgeous and knows it, he’s accustomed to getting all the attention for whatever he does, and he doesn’t even seem to realize that he is privileged.  He takes his good looks and the adoration of the mermaids for granted, to the point of being rude to the mermaids his parents parade before him as potential brides.  And while the traditional telling of the story would allow this kind of arrogant privilege to go more or less unnoticed, the twist the author gives to Naru’s deal with Mellow, the sea Sorcerer, brings his privilege front and center.  

Mellow offers Naru the Little Mermaid deal: you give me your voice and I’ll turn you human, but Naru has more sense than the Little Mermaid, immediately pointing out that if he can’t communicate with the girl of his dreams, there’s no way he can get her to fall in love with him.  Magic has to be paid for, of course, so Naru has to sacrifice something to get his human legs, and when Mellow offers to take Naru’s “hotness” in exchange for turning him into a human, Naru takes him up on it, only to discover, when he’s a human being, that he is no longer the gorgeous creature all the women flock to.  This is a big surprise for him, and part of the humor of the story is his trying to come to terms with his lack of status as a human being.

The other major and interesting difference between this and the classic story is the role of the beloved human.  When we first see Nami, the girl of his affections, we see her through his eyes and she is your classic manga young girl, all big eyes and long legs and long hair, cute and innocent, so we can be excused for assuming she’s as ditzy as she looks. However, and this is a big however, she is in fact a modern young woman, and she reacts to Naru’s inappropriate attempts to make her fall in love with him (which involve him throwing himself at her when he’s naked and calling her his “mermaid” and referring to her as his future wife before he even knows her name) the way a sensible young woman would: by screaming at him, calling him a pervert and throwing him away from her. He has to make her fall in love with him and he has no clue how to do it, not so much because he’s unused to being human as because he’s unused to having to earn anyone’s love.  Of course, she doesn’t know he’s a merman or that he was the one who saved her from drowning, but it’s still refreshing that she has enough sense of herself and her worth that she’s not going to fall in love with him at first sight, or even at repeated sights (since he’s staying in the inn she’s running). It’s going to be fun watching her react with jaundiced eye to his clumsy puppy dog efforts to win her.

The first volume of the series sets up the characters well, introducing complications into Naru’s situation (when he falls into salt water he turns back into a merman, he can’t tell anyone what he really is or he’ll turn into sea foam and disappear altogether, and there’s another boy who knows his secret and uses it to blackmail him into acting as a personal servant) while giving Naru opportunities to learn how to be a better person, and giving more and more depth to Nami. This is a lighter manga than other ones I’ve been reading lately, and I appreciate that, but I have the feeling there’s going to be some hidden depths here to balance the slapstick humor.

Whether or not you’re a fan of manga, if you’re familiar with The Little Mermaid and would like to see a different visioning of it, give Mermaid Boys a try, and you will be pleasantly surprised.