But What About People Who Aren’t Mermaids?

I stumbled across this interview of Amy Shearn, the author of the amazing novel The Mermaid of Brooklyn, which I loved and couldn’t recommend more highly. Here, she’s asked a particularly inane question, and responds cleverly about the power of good fiction.

How can women who don’t have children appreciate this book?

One of my favourite all-time novels is Moby Dick, and I have never been on a whale ship, nor do I ever hope to be. I also love The Sun Also Rises, and I am not an expatriate and I have never seen a bullfight. I adore The Cather in The Rye, and yet, I am not a young boy running away from boarding school.

I happen to think Holden Caulfield is a whiny little prat, but what a brilliant answer to the question!

Via The Mermaid of Brooklyn by Amy Shearn

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5 Responses to But What About People Who Aren’t Mermaids?

  1. Bethie says:

    Yes! (Also, I’d read that book because it has mermaid in the title.)

    • Meg says:

      That’s pretty much why I wanted to read it. “Hey! I like mermaids! I like Brooklyn! This is going to be a good book!”

  2. bridget says:

    A very good response to an asinine question.

    While there is apparently nothing quite like motherhood, there are a lot of experiences that anyone can relate to, e.g. loving someone more than yourself, constant exhaustion, feeling overwhelmed, or being happy when someone whom you’ve taught/mentored/coached succeeds in ways that you couldn’t imagine or couldn’t even do yourself. It’s a bit odd to suggest that motherhood emotions are not just more intense than anything else, but also completely separate. It’s like, what kind of limited life do you have to have lead in order for motherhood to be the first time you ever felt any of that?

    (Does that make sense?)

    • Meg says:

      I dislike the assumption that one can only understand and engage with familiar stories in literature. I’d probably quite like a story about a classicist/game designer who goes to China, but that’s not the only story I can ever possibly understand.

      I also dislike the idea that mother-emotions are so foreign that nothing can possibly connect to it. It would be very sad if one couldn’t apply similar feelings and situations, and come out with some kind of empathy for this fictional mother. Maybe a real-life mother would have a deeper connection to fictional ones, but that doesn’t mean that ONLY a mother can relate and enjoy.

      • bridget says:

        That’s what I was trying to sum up with “asinine”. If you even try to put actual examples to it, you fail, because almost every piece of literature you read is about people who have radically different experiences. (I tried writing, “I’ve read the Odyssey in the original Greek and at least three different translations, but the only thing I have in common with Odysseus is the ability to sail,” and almost laughed at the absurdity of explaining this really basic concept.)

        Any good literature – real literature – connects to universal human emotions, not situational feelings. It’s not about the super-specific experience, but about being human and everything that comes with that. I’m pretty sure that most people grasped this concept by the time they read “My Brother Sam is Dead” in grammar school.

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