Thursday, May 27, 2010

On Folly Beach - Book Review

I once vacationed on Folly Beach in South Carolina with one of my greatest friends, along with her parents and another family which I had never met. This trip was offered up to me hot-casserole-style just a couple of weeks after the 11th hour cancellation of our wedding, but you already know that story.

Suffice it to say - I needed to get the heck out of Dodge. So I went, and I brought a bucket full of memories home with me including the vague hilarity of a comment Melanie's Dad made whilst driving car-bound for hours on end. I cannot for the life of me remember what he said, or even the general theme. But I do remember it being the funniest thing ever, and that notion alone makes me want to laugh one more time.

What I'm trying to say is, how could I not read On Folly Beach?

I was sucked in from the very first page, with this: "But now the keening of the wind through the colored bottles bled through her bones and flashed behind her eyes like a newsreel, illuminating the one thing she'd never wanted to know."

It turns out I'm a pretty easy sell. Feed me a juicy simile and I'm yours for the next 300 pages.

The story alternates between Emmy, a modern-day Indiana transplant seeking escape from the recent loss of her husband; and a pair of sisters, Maggie and Lulu, in the 1940's during World War II. The characters are linked through dusty boxes of beloved books...books that just so happen to have clandestine love notes scrawled in the margins. As Emmy willingly hurls herself through that trapdoor and into the past, her grief begins to loosen its grip and she finds hope in the life she has now.

At the risk of exposing my simple mind, I will say that this era-tripping worried me a little right out of the gate. Alas, I reminded myself that I survived and grew to love "The Time Traveler's Wife" and soldiered on.

The author, Karen White did a fantastic job of building momentum as the stories progressed and ultimately stitched them together in such a way that while each story stood on its own merit, the convergence of the two was even more compelling.

The chapter lengths were ideal (this is of utmost importance to me for reasons I cannot fully explain) and the historical aspects were laid out with detailed restraint. For a girl such as myself, fiction with a historical bent can, at times, become drudgery. In this case, however, I found myself trying hard to picture these girls...their hairstyles, their home, their bookstore. I imagined the handsome soldiers and wondered what life was really like "back then". I harkened myself right back to the Folly Beach Pier and felt lottery-lucky to learn after all this time and in this way, that those boards were once danced upon by the likes of Maggie and Cat. The history was the story here, rather than being mixed in with a heavy hand and an unwieldy spoon, as I've seen so many times before.

I grew to care about the characters - or at least, to care about what would come of them. In the end, I felt that there was a significant question that went mostly unanswered, but I can handle a loose end or two. I've decided that it can be a good thing to be left wondering - it supports the delusional tendency I have to choose to believe that characters of a great book are real. That maybe one day I'll run into someone who knew Cat later in life and can fill me in on what I missed.

As Karen White painted the pictures and left me guessing, I stole away in search of answers. I found myself ignoring late-night burning eyes and turning the page, again and again. What more could be said of a novel, really?