Despite what you may be thinking, Mermaids by Patty Dann is not about mermaids. It is the tale (get it, TALE...tail? Man, I'm funny) of Charlotte Flax, her mother--whom she calls Mrs. Flax, and her younger sister, Kate. Mrs. Flax dates around and, when the relationship sours, moves around. Charlotte and Kate are forced to relocate time and time again at the behest of their mother, when all Charlotte wants is to be a Saint and have her baby teeth be worshipped as Holy Relics. This information is presented in the first few pages and the books only gets more hilarious and quirky as it goes.
To be perfectly transparent, I knew the story of Charlotte Flax long before reading this book. You may or, as is more common, may not be aware that Mermaids was adapted into a film in 1990 starring Cher, Winona Ryder, Christina Ricci, and Bob Hoskins. I watched it at some point in my youth and absolutely fell in love. However, it wasn't until recently that I learned the novel even existed! So I bought the novel as soon as I could and devoured it (it's only 147 pages, so that didn't take long).
Now, having enjoyed the film and read the book, I can say without a doubt that the stories are identical. Very little was changed or left out in the adaptation from book to film, and I think that's because nothing needed to be changed. Patty Dann does a great job of conveying to the reader exactly who her characters are in one sentence. For instance, the novel opens with the line, "Mrs. Flax was happiest when she was leaving a place, but I wanted to stay put long enough to fall down crazy and hear the Word of God." It is rare to come across a first line that perfectly encapsulates the tone of a novel and its characters.
As lovely and fun as the book was, there were times where I felt the author could have gone into more detail. Patty Dann's direct style of narration provided enough detail to set the scene, but she rarely lingered and it caused the book to feel a little hectic at times. However, the characters that people this book and the setting Dann placed them in are vivid enough to overlook this issue. Mermaids may not have any actual mermaids, but it is a magical read all the same.