Penelope Schleeman, a broke high school teacher, is surprised when her debut novel, American Mermaid—the story of a wheelchair-bound scientist who discovers that her withered legs are the vestiges of a tail—becomes a bestseller. Penelope finds herself lured to LA by promises of easy money to co-write the American Mermaid screenplay for a major studio with a pair of male hacks. As the studio pressures Penelope to change American Mermaid from the story of a fierce, androgynous eco-warrior to a teen sex object in a clam bra, strange things start to happen.
Langbein... wrings some predictable laughs from the co-writers’ cringingly awful suggestions, but this is familiar stuff; Penny’s wistful recollections of how much she loved teaching are fresher and ring truer. It takes too long for the pace, and readers’ interest, to pick up as some mysterious edits to the master script convince Penny that Sylvia has swum out of her novel to wreak revenge on her enemies. The ambiguous two-part ending teasingly hints that this is possible, and Langbein gives the appealing Penny a shot at happiness on her own terms to wrap up this sharply well-written, but only fitfully engaging tale.