Brooklyn BookBeat: Local author draws on experience as Brooklyn mother

Brooklyn-based writer Amy Shearn will soon be releasing her latest novel – a charming story titled “The Mermaid of Brooklyn” (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, April 2).  Jenny Lipkin, Shearn’s protagonist, is striving to pick up the pieces after her husband mysteriously leaves—and she finds strength from the unlikeliest of allies: a mermaid.

Still adjusting to life as a stay-at-home mother, Jenny, a former magazine editor, tackles the challenges of raising two children in a cramped Park Slope walk-up.  She spends endless hours in Prospect Park, bonding with other moms about breastfeeding and sleeplessness. Jenny is already stretched-too-thin, but when her husband Harry, a compulsive gambler, vanishes one evening without a word, she finally reaches her breaking point. And in a moment of despair, a split second decision changes her life forever.

Pulled from the brink by an unexpected (and, as it turns out, sometimes annoying) supernatural ally, Jenny is forced to rethink her ideas about success, motherhood, romance, and relationships. But confronting her inner demons—of both the mermaid and non-mermaid variety—is no easy task. This beautifully written novel blends the whimsy of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and the biting humor of “The Nanny Diaries” with an indelible portrait of motherhood, exploring the stories and struggles women only share with one another.

Shearn’s story is loosely based on her great-grandmother, a small but strong Lithuanian woman named Jenny Lipkin, whose love for a pair of shoes once saved her life. Overwhelmed, depressed, and uncertain about her constantly gambling husband’s whereabouts, Jenny climbed onto a bridge and considered jumping.  When she caught sight of her beautiful, perfectly fitting shoes, she changed her mind.  She went on to raise three children and became famous in her corner of Chicago for her expert sewing.

Shearn also wanted to write a novel for all the smart mothers she knew as a mother herself in Brooklyn.  So she decided to transpose her great-grandmother’s story to present day Park Slope.  The final piece of the puzzle came when Shearn read about the seductive, sensual, scary concept of the mermaid from Slavic folklore, known as the Rusalka, which she felt would provide the perfect supernatural ally for Jenny Lipkin.

Shearn will appear at powerHouse on 8th (1111 8th Ave. in South Slope) on Tuesday, April 2 at 7p.m., and at Lark Café (1007 Church Ave. in Ditmas Park) on Sunday, April 14 at 6 p.m.

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Amy Shearn is the author of “How Far Is the Ocean from Here.” She is a graduate of the University of Iowa and the University of Minnesota’s MFA program. Her work has appeared in The Millions, Poets & Writers, The L Magazine, Opium, and Five Chapters, and she writes for Oprah.com and RedbookMag.com. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children. Visit her at www.amyshearnwrites.com.