Sunday, October 14, 2012

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

Title: Monstrous Beauty
Author: Elizabeth Fama
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Pages: 304 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Bought it.
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: audiobook clip | author website

Monstrous BeautyFierce, seductive mermaid Syrenka falls in love with Ezra, a young naturalist. When she abandons her life underwater for a chance at happiness on land, she is unaware that this decision comes with horrific and deadly consequences.

Almost one hundred forty years later, seventeen-year-old Hester meets a mysterious stranger named Ezra and feels overwhelmingly, inexplicably drawn to him. For generations, love has resulted in death for the women in her family. Is it an undiagnosed genetic defect . . . or a curse? With Ezra’s help, Hester investigates her family’s strange, sad history. The answers she seeks are waiting in the graveyard, the crypt, and at the bottom of the ocean—but powerful forces will do anything to keep her from uncovering her connection to Syrenka and to the tragedy of so long ago.


This book should have worked for me. It really should have. Mermaids may not be my favorite creatures in the world, but I like them enough and Monstrous Beauty sounded exactly like the kind of tantalizing, creepy story I could fall in love with.

So why didn't I?

Fama has the creepy part down; some of the novel's descriptions are great, such as when Syrenka kills a man and tears apart his chest so she can feed on his lungs. That there? Genuinely sent chills up my spine. Small scenes like that may have been all the good I saw in this novel. Otherwise, the narration (usually in the chapters happening in 1872/1873) tended to do a good bit of head-jumping when narrative consistency is my preference and what works best for me.

The characters never earned any emotional investment from me and I kept getting annoyed at Hester. No, she absolutely can never love anyone or be with them, even though two people who are together don't necessarily have to have sex. And birth control and abortion? Totally nonexistent, even though she brings up birth control once. The relationships just sort of happen and one can only accept them if they want it to work. I couldn't because I didn't feel the strength of the characters' bonds. I made most of the connections before Hester did and whether or not this was intended, it's not something I like doing while reading.

Perhaps the answer is in the mermaid myth itself. This is not the first time I've seen mermaids needing to marry human men to gain souls, though this one goes a step further and makes it so she must also carry a human man's child. The idea of a woman needing a marry/have a child to have a soul is problematic in itself no matter how old or common the idea is in mermaid mythology. Every time I tried to get into the story, that jumped out at me again. In general, I had a hard time putting together an image of the mermaids in my head, though an email from the author helped clear up some of my questions.

Whatever the case, Monstrous Beauty's chosen variety of creep is simply the wrong kind. Just as some people are specific about which brands they use to make foods, I'm very specific about what kinds of creepy work for me. This did not have the right kind.

And that is why Monstrous Beauty is a DNF.

What am I reading next?: Legend by Marie Lu