Helen Ginger’s debut novel is the powerful story of a young survivor. Gritty, self-doubting, and kind-hearted Angel is determined not to let painful and horrible incidences in her childhood prevent her from living a full and successful life. Homeless for several years, she secures a job and works and studies to get her GED and go on to college. Periodically, however, she feels unloved and is overcome by self-doubt and self-loathing. Her unresolved past haunts her and holds her back.
That past is given to us by a series of flashbacks and with each journey into the past, we find out a little more about what happened. The full truth, however, is only revealed when Angel has the courage to go back home and confront her past head-on. I loved the way the story unfolds and unlike one reviewer, I feel the flashbacks are well integrated into the plot and deepen our understanding of Angel’s character and destiny.
Angel works as one of the swimming mermaids in a bar. I have never heard of such a job, so this was a very interesting part of the book. While I agree with one reviewer that the scenes with Angel and her co-workers swimming in the huge aquarium are at times a little repetitive, I also felt that the mermaid becomes an important image in the story. The mermaid has been a powerful symbol since ancient times in mythology, literature, folk tales, and psychology. There are many different interpretations by experts in many fields. I don’t attempt to add another one. I’m merely giving some ideas about what the mermaid meant for me personally within the context of this story.
The mermaid is creature of two worlds, the sea and the land, animal and human, or, in a more psychological sense, part of the world of consciousness and reason and everyday life on the one hand and part of the unconscious, the mysterious, the instincts, including sexuality, on the other hand. The mermaid has access to both worlds but is also trapped in both. Angel works as a mermaid swimmer in an aquarium but Angel is a mermaid in more than one sense. She struggles with her everyday life, with love, and relationships and while she does quite well surviving and supporting herself, she is held back from becoming fully human by a past she hasn’t dealt with and hence hasn’t been able to free herself from. She is bound by her mermaid’s tail, so to speak. How constricting this tail—this crippling past--can be we see as one of her co-workers almost drowns when her tail gets stuck in the narrow space she has to swim through to get into the aquarium.
In the end Angel goes back home to find out what really happened in her childhood when her father hurt her and her mother seemingly abandoned her, and what she finds is both painful and liberating. Ultimately, she has the chance to strip off her mermaid’s tail and stand more securely on her two human legs.
Powerful story, beautiful descriptions, heart-felt emotions, and believable, genuine characters—a truly great first novel. I hope the author continues on her path as fiction writer!
Sunday, July 1, 2012
Angel Sometimes by Helen Ginger—the Mermaid trapped in Two Worlds
Christa Polkinhorn, originally from Switzerland, lives and works as writer and translator in the Los Angeles area, California. She divides her time between the United States and Switzerland and has strong ties to both countries. She is the author of five novels and a collection of poems. Her travels and her interest in foreign cultures inform her work and her novels take place in several countries. Aside from writing and traveling, she is an avid reader and a lover of the arts, dark chocolate, and red wine.