Saturday, November 21, 2009

Review: Mark Zvonkovic Takes Us to 70s in Beautifully Written Novel!

When Mermaids Sing
By Mark Zvonkovic
iUniverse, Inc.
ISBN: 9781440167171
239 Pages

Prepare to sit back and enjoy the beautifully written literary fiction of Mark Zvonkovic in When Mermaids Sing. When a former English teacher also has the creative genius to tell stories, it results in a pleasurable read, no matter the topic. In Zvonkovic’s case, his first novel takes us back to the 70s when there were many, many religious cults which aggressively recruited young people, often resulting in a complete break of teens from their families.

As I started to read and review the issues that led to what was, in essence, brainwashing, I thought of today’s reality shows that reveal how people now use drugs and alcohol to find that “something” that is lacking in their lives. Why is it that there are always those that seek “alternative” methods to find what seems to be missing?

Larry Brown appears to be the low man on the totem pole in his family—he’s just a high school English teacher, while his parents teach at the college level. On the other hand, he’s satisfied with his life and looks back on his early years with pleasure. Now, however, he’s heard from his best friend that his companion is cheating on him and he’s taking a harder look at the relationship, even following Milly to theatres where she is an actress. When he sees her leaving with a fellow actor, carrying an overnight bag, he is forced to face the truth. Not only is she cheating, but she later continues to lie, dominate and abuse his feelings for her.

So when he attended his father’s annual “welcome” for his students, he was open to meet and talk with Jenny, who had been captured by his father in one of his usual discussions about W. H. Auden. But as soon as his father moves on to other responsibilities, Jenny and Larry change to more personal topics. Trying to get himself out of an embarrassing situation, he comments about his cousin Bradley being involved with meditation—which leads Jenny to share that her brother, Josh, had joined a cult that has an ashram, a retreat on Cape Cod. When Larry learns that Bradley is also staying at this site, he becomes immediately more concerned and agrees to work with Jenny. Her father had hired Sam Henry, a well-known deprogrammer who was known as “Black Lightning.”

With Black Lightning in charge, a rescue is planned for Josh and Bradley. Along the way, a few others join the group, and Larry is upset to learn that getting Josh out is the main objective since getting both out might be impossible. Although Jenny had visited Josh in the past, it was known that none of the members were ever allowed to be alone. But, although nothing had been proven, Larry was concerned that a young man they had briefly met, who had recently been found dead, had “not” committed suicide, but had been found by two members of the cult who had been trying to take him back! Now, there was a need to not only get Josh and Bradley to travel together, but to get them both away from the ashram! A difficult task...

I was completely caught off-guard with the ending and think you will be also! Mark Zvonkovic’s When Mermaids Sing, takes reader into an insightful, introspective look, at ourselves, our lives, and a consideration of what so many are searching for from life. Personally, I enjoyed the look back into my own memories of those times when there was always some group of young people, selling flowers, or whatever, as you traveled, who invited you to accept their handouts about their lives. Whether or not, you have those memories, you will certainly be taken into the time period and the experience. Enjoy the time spent there during the 70s in America’s northeast! I did!

G. A. Bixler

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