I'd like to take a poll, to ask if anyone besides myself suffers from the pathological drive to over-extend myself. I seem to need to put myself through this, regardless of where I am in my life. I don't work outside the home anymore, so you'd think I was free of the disease. No, it has slithered its way into my volunteerism and my blogging, specifically with accepting review copies from publishers and authors. Weeks ago, I promised myself that I should read what I have, and accept no more additional commitments. Then I received an e-mail about "On Folly Beach". Some things must not be ignored. Who am I to fight it?
The story centers on Emmy, whose husband has recently been killed in Afghanistan. Although she can't seem to get past her grief, and at the urging of her mother, moves from Indiana to a barrier island in South Carolina called Folly Beach. She has taken her savings and purchased a family-owned bookstore in the attempt to occupy her thoughts and start over. She is immediately embraced by the family selling her the bookstore, including the happy-go-lucky and, oh by the way, handsome Heath (named after Heathcliff...this is a literary family after all!). She does not immediately bond with old Aunt Lulu, who by contract, must be allowed to continue to design and sell "bottle trees" from the back courtyard of the store.
While perusing some old family book collections looking for first editions and rare collectibles, she begins to notice mysterious notes in the margins of some of them. Seemingly, they appear to be secret messages back and forth between a man and a woman in the early 1940's. An illicit affair? Emmy begins to ask questions of Aunt Lulu, who was a little girl during that time in history, and gets more than she bargains for. The questions reopen a wound from Lulu's youth that have devastating potential.
The story goes back and forth in time, between Emmy's life in 2009, and 1942, in the middle of WWII on Folly Beach. We meet Lulu as a 9 year-old, her older sister Maggie, who is her guardian since the death of their parents and the owner of the bookstore, and their recently widowed cousin Cat. Food is rationed, blackouts enforced at night, and servicemen are enjoying the shag dancing and entertainment Folly has to offer. Maggie meets the dashing Peter, an immigrant from Poland, and falls in love. But as foreshadowed by Lulu's reticence in 2009, things don't go as planned, and end in a tragic climax at the Morris Island lighthouse.
I know that was a rather long synopsis, but I had a point to make. Look at all the highlighted words. When I was reading about the book in the e-mail from the publicist, these were really the only words I saw. The rest was just noise. How often are you offered an opportunity to review a book that literally touches on nearly every passion you have in life? Additionally, Karen White has a reputation amongst the bloggers...great writing, atmosphere, intrigue, romance. Plus she is just an all-around nice person.
My opinion? Wondering when I am going to get around to that? I loved it. It would be hard to find a book with more atmosphere. It is enough to place a book in the loving arms of a beach community in the Carolinas. (Just read Pat Conroy's Beach Music or Prince of Tides.) But adding to that an indie bookstore? The mystique of the bottle trees, an old African tradition, warding off evil spirits? Lovers' notations in the margins of Romeo & Juliet, The Great Gatsby, Around the World in 80 Days? It really doesn't get any better. It all made my heart very warm and fuzzy.
There were a a few niggling issues that I had, and to be fair, I feel I need to mention them. When I close my eyes, I cannot conjure up an image of Emmy. Her age, her hair color, her stature. Perhaps these details were all there but passed me by, I don't know. Because of this, I always felt like I was missing a puzzle piece. There were some predictable moments in the story as well. This is not necessarily a fatal flaw, but appreciate an author who will pull the rug out from under me!
The underlying message from the story, however, is one that really resonated with me, and is reflected over and over again within its pages. When you are grieving, over a lost love, a loved one who has passed, or an opportunity missed, how do you know when it has been long enough? This question is answered in this quote, spoken to Emmy by her mother:
"When you realize that love doesn't have a time span. Only pain does. I think sometimes it's hard to distinguish between the two, so we just hold on to both of them like they're inseparable."
Stay tuned for a guest post from Karen White this Thursday!
4.5 out of 5 stars