by Julia Langbein
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Pub Date 20 Jul 2023 | Archive Date 08 Jul 2023
A brilliantly witty debut novel following a writer lured to LA to adapt her feminist mermaid story into a big-budget film—only to find the mermaid has other ideas.
Broke English teacher Penelope Schleeman is as surprised as anyone when her feminist novel American Mermaid becomes a bestseller. Lured by the promise of a big payday, she quits teaching and moves to LA to turn the novel into an action flick with the help of some studio hacks. But as she’s pressured to change her main character from a fierce, androgynous eco-warrior to a teen sex object in a clamshell bra, strange things start to happen. Threats appear in the screenplay; siren calls lure Penelope’s co-writers into danger. Is Penelope losing her mind, or has her mermaid come to life, enacting revenge for Hollywood’s violations?
American Mermaid follows a young woman braving the casual slights and cruel calculations of a ruthless industry town, where she discovers a beating heart in her own fiction, a mermaid who will fight to move between worlds without giving up her voice. A hilarious story about deep things, American Mermaid asks how far we’ll go to protect the parts of ourselves that are not for sale.
‘I was hooked from the first page. American Mermaid is brilliantly sharp, funny, and thought-provoking, the gripping story of a woman trying to find her way in our chaotic world.’—Madeline Miller, bestselling author of Circe
‘Every time I picked up this book I both laughed out loud and sighed in admiration. Deeply hilarious, delightfully strange, intricately constructed and remarkably satisfying, American Mermaid is sensational.’—Julia May Jonas, author of Vladimir
‘A salty, sleek and scheming satire, American Mermaid considers dangerous and alluring myths surrounding creative control, compromise and complicity. Told with a caricaturist’s energy and dynamism, Langbein’s layered narratives gleefully expose Hollywood’s ritualized humiliations. Full of skewering, mischievous precision, it is a glittering, baited hook of a novel.’—Eley Williams, author of The Liar's Dictionary
‘A comedy of wordplay. A superhero adventure. A Hollywood takedown. A hoot and a half. American Mermaid is all of these, and more. So witty and marvelous you won’t be able to put it down. So pick it up!’—Andrew Sean Greer, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Less Is Lost
‘American Mermaid is, like a mermaid herself, a beautiful mix of two things. It is a brilliantly funny and perfectly modern satire, as well as being an elegant exploration of soulfulness, longing and belonging, and the ungovernable wildness of nature herself. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I loved it.’—Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of City of Girls
‘American Mermaid is shapeshifting novel composed of wildly divergent elements—a biting Hollywood satire, a magical realist book-within-a-book, and a moody meditation on identity and selling out. It probably shouldn’t work, but it succeeds brilliantly, thanks to Julia Langbein’s tonal control and wicked sense of humor. This is a a debut novel of unusual ambition and scope.’—Tom Perrotta, author of Tracy Flick Can't Win and Mrs. Fletcher
‘An absolute weirdo masterpiece. With her debut, Julia Langbein pulls off an impressive tonal tightrope walk that would send a lesser writer stumbling to the ground. American Mermaid manages to be so many things at once—a zany and savage satire about Hollywood, a tale of magical realism, and an aching story about what comes after you achieve your dream, how the depths of your ambition can swallow you whole. This novel is both a pleasure to read and signals the arrival of an exciting new writer to watch.’—Jean Kyoung Frazier, author of Pizza Girl