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American Mermaid

Broke English teacher Penelope Schleeman is as surprised as anyone when her feminist novel American Mermaid becomes a bestseller. Lured by the promise of a big payday, she quits teaching and moves to LA to turn the novel into an action flick with the help of some studio hacks. But as she’s pressured to change her main character from a fierce, androgynous eco-warrior to a teen sex object in a clamshell bra, strange things start to happen. Threats appear in the screenplay; siren calls lure Penelope’s co-writers into danger. Is Penelope losing her mind, or has her mermaid come to life, enacting revenge for Hollywood’s violations?

American Mermaid follows a young woman braving the casual slights and cruel calculations of a ruthless industry town, where she discovers a beating heart in her own fiction, a mermaid who will fight to move between worlds without giving up her voice. A hilarious story about deep things, American Mermaid asks how far we’ll go to protect the parts of ourselves that are not for sale.


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Julia Langbein
About the Author

Julia Langbein spent her formative years doing sketch, stand-up and improv comedy in New York before getting her doctorate in art history. She is the author of a non-fiction book about comic art criticism and has since written about food, art and travel for Gourmet, Eater, Salon, Frieze and other publications. A native of Chicago, she lives...

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28 March 2023
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Praise for Julia Langbein
andAmerican Mermaid

‘I was hooked from the first page. American Mermaid is brilliantly sharp, funny, and thought-provoking, the gripping story of a woman trying to find her way in our chaotic world.’

‘Every time I picked up this book I both laughed out loud and sighed in admiration. Deeply hilarious, delightfully strange, intricately constructed and remarkably satisfying, American Mermaid is sensational.’

‘A salty, sleek and scheming satire, American Mermaid considers dangerous and alluring myths surrounding creative control, compromise and complicity. Told with a caricaturist’s energy and dynamism, Langbein’s layered narratives gleefully expose Hollywood’s ritualized humiliations. Full of skewering, mischievous precision, it is a glittering, baited hook of a novel.’

‘A comedy of wordplay. A superhero adventure. A Hollywood takedown. A hoot and a half. American Mermaid is all of these, and more. So witty and marvelous you won’t be able to put it down. So pick it up!’

American Mermaid is, like a mermaid herself, a beautiful mix of two things. It is a brilliantly funny and perfectly modern satire, as well as being an elegant exploration of soulfulness, longing and belonging, and the ungovernable wildness of nature herself. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I loved it.’

American Mermaid is shapeshifting novel composed of wildly divergent elements—a biting Hollywood satire, a magical realist book-within-a-book, and a moody meditation on identity and selling out. It probably shouldn’t work, but it succeeds brilliantly, thanks to Julia Langbein’s tonal control and wicked sense of humor. This is a a debut novel of unusual ambition and scope.’

‘An absolute weirdo masterpiece. With her debut, Julia Langbein pulls off an impressive tonal tightrope walk that would send a lesser writer stumbling to the ground. American Mermaid manages to be so many things at once—a zany and savage satire about Hollywood, a tale of magical realism, and an aching story about what comes after you achieve your dream, how the depths of your ambition can swallow you whole. This novel is both a pleasure to read and signals the arrival of an exciting new writer to watch.’

‘Filled with wit and more than few laugh-out-loud moments…A downright delightful debut novel.’

‘I love Penelope Schleeman’s voice. Everything she thinks and feels, as Langbein’s first-person protagonist, is funny, smart, and irresistible…I laughed out loud.’


‘Wildly inventive, this book will get you thinking about artistic integrity as it elicits plenty of snarf-yourself laughs.’

‘Clever…Langbein has written a sincere novel about art, Hollywood, sexuality, feminism, global warming, the cultural zeitgeist—and managed to do so while entertaining with a modern voice and a light touch of humor.’

‘Darkly comic…Made me burst out laughing, I have never done that before!’

‘Absolutely hilarious.’

‘Witty satire.’

Other editions ofAmerican Mermaid
  • American Mermaid
    ISBN: 9781922791245
    28 March 2023
    Buy ebook