The Merrill Diaries, by my friend, Susan Tepper
My first impression of Merrill is that she is a woman on a quest or an odyssey, though that would imply a goal of some sort; apparently Merrill’s goal is to simply go. Go, and keep going.
At the beginning of Merrill’s journey we find her in a dead-end marriage to Teddy, who seems a decent enough guy, good looking, but clueless; he doesn’t like Merrill bringing up that “stupid women lib stuff” that she gets from that “commie magazine” called Ms.(yeah, they are clearly not living in the same reality). She’s also working at the perfect dead-end job, a “freaking travel agency,” that leaves her envious of her customers: “even the lowly student with a cheap Eurail pass.”
What’s a girl to do? Join a rock band, what else?
Merrill’s view of the world seems zany at times (“I won’t dye my crotch,” I whisper in his ear.), but what I find irresistible is her courage. Despite missing the aqua walls of their house, she leaves Teddy (It’s not like he didn’t have it coming after inviting the spies and their devil dog Mungo to share their house) for Eddie, the lead guitarist in the band she joins (“It’s blasting idyllic for a week, until it comes time to do the laundry.”).
Speaking of Teddy, she writes, “his gray vision forming a gray life. I take no responsibility in this outcome!” This is what I love most about Merrill; other people are responsible for their own lives and, as the story progresses, we see that Merrill holds herself to the same standard. Her successes, blunders, and mishaps are hers (even when others have a clear hand in the troubles).
Not surprisingly, the singing gig doesn’t pan out (the place she shares with Eddies burns down) and so it’s off to London to sell truffles as Merrill Kimberly and marry well, only to also leave him and go to Greece in time for the revolution. And so Merrill goes, and goes, and goes. I love a girl who is not afraid to put the wind at her back
Besides Merrill herself, I also enjoy how Tepper has constructed a unified whole of the thirty stand-alone chapters that make up The Merrill Diaries. It is an intriguing, seamless (zipless?) read that keeps us wondering, what will this girl get up to next? While reading it I was perpetually smiling and frequently laughing out loud thanks to Tepper’s wit and timing.
If someone called one of my books “a delight,” I’d probably turn snarky and ask, “What is that, a dessert?” Merrill herself might ask, “Me? A delight? You must have me confused.” But what can I say, The Merrill Dairies IS a delight, as is its eponymous irrepressible heroine. As one other reviewer noted, “I want more of Merrill!”