Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Beach House

The Beach House by Mary Alice Monroe had been languishing on Mt. TBR for some time, and a bookmark at page 32 marked an earlier attempt to read about Caretta Rutledge and her coming of age story. I say coming of age because despite the main character age in years one immediately thinks of when a book is described as such, I think we can come of age at any time in our lives when we shed what came before and look ahead with renewed purpose.
From Publishers Weekly

After losing her high-powered advertising job in Chicago, Caretta Rutledge grudgingly returns to her low-country roots at her mother's behest. Cara has long resented her mother, who focused her maternal efforts more on looking after the annual loggerhead turtle spawn than on protecting herself and her children from their abusive father. But when Cara learns that her mother is ill, she must lay her bitterness aside and try to make amends. Cara starts by restoring her mother's small beach house and joining the same turtle brigade she resented while growing up. In the process, she reconnects with an old friend and finds love in the arms of a local boat owner and naturalist. This poignant read won't disappoint fans of so-called "Southern Fiction;” the South, which represents both poison and tonic, is eloquently portrayed here, and its healing properties inevitably come to the fore. Just enough information about the loggerhead turtles and their spawning cycle opens each chapter, swiftly engaging the reader from the outset, and all of the integral characters are richly developed. With its evocative, often beautiful prose and keen insights into family relationships, Monroe's latest (following The Four Seasons) is an exceptional and heartwarming work of fiction that is bound to please fans of women's fiction and romances alike.

I finished The Beach House this morning after we’ve been through a week of the coldest weather in years and as another six inches of snow was blanketing the yard; however, I felt the warmth of the South Carolina sun, felt the sand between my toes, and heard the steady and true sounds of the ocean. The book opens with this passage:

It was twilight and a brilliant red sun lazily made its hazy descent off the South Carolina coast. Lovie Rutledge stood alone on a small, rolling sand dune and watched as two young children with hair the same sandy color as the beach squealed and cavorted, playing the age-old game of tag with the sea. A shaky half smile lifted the corners of her mouth. The boy couldn’t have been more than four years of age yet he was aggressively charging the water, the stick in his hand pointing outward like a sword. Then, turning on his heel, he ran back up the beach chased by wave. Poor fellow was tagged more often than not. But the girl… Was she seven or eight? Now there was a skilled player. She danced on tiptoe, getting daringly close to the foamy wave, instinctively knowing the second to back away, taunting the water with her high laugh.

What memories that stirred up for me. Has it really been twenty-five years since I stood and watched my son and daughter playing the same game on a Cape Cod beach?

This book stirred up many memories not because my mother and I were ever at loggerheads, but because on these cold wintery days I have read how Cara learns not to fight what her mother is going through but to help her through it. As daughters, our first instinct to fight the inevitable and it does take strength to step outside ourselves to help. Even after many years have passed, a turn of phrase in a book of fiction can pop the top on the box safely stored in our hearts, and the raw emotions claw their way back.

My family life and circumstances are and were nothing like Cara’s, but the exploration of the mother-daughter bond, that most dynamic of relationships fraught with loggerhead moments, made this a standout reading experience for me.

Prologue EpigraphLoggerhead. 1. Latin: Caretta caretta. A tropical sea turtle with a hard shell and a large head. 2. A stupid fellow; blockhead. 3. At loggerheads; in disagreement; in a quarrel.

DedicationThis book is dedicated to my fellow members of the Isle of Palms/Sullivan’s Island Turtle Team [list of names] and to all Turtle Volunteers here and elsewhere who walk the beaches every morning to help our beloved loggerheads.

EpigraphPerchance you have worried, despaired of the world, meditated the end of life, and all things seem rushing to destruction; but nature has steadily and serenely advanced with the turtle’s pace. The young turtle spends its infancy within its shell. It gets experience and learns the way of the world through that wall. While it rests warily on the edge of its hole, rash schemes are undertaken by men and fail. French empires rise or fall, but the turtle is developed only so fast. What’s a summer? Time for a turtle’s egg to hatch. So is the turtle developed, fitted to endure, for he outlives twenty French dynasties. One turtle knows several Napoleons. They have no worries, have no cares, yet has not the great world existed for them as much as for you?

-Henry David Thoreau Journal August 28, 1856

Finished January 18, 2009
Rating: 4 of 5 (General Fiction)
Pages: 477
Publisher: Mira
Copyright: 2002
Format: Trade Paperback


Nan said...

What an excellent review!! Have you ever read the kids' book, The View From Saturday? the reason I ask is that turtles are part of that book. Again, a wonderfully written review.

Marcia said...

Thank you, Nan. I've put The View from Saturday on my library list.

Les said...

I agree with Nan, Marcia. This is a fabulous review! I've read a couple of Monroe's books and this will go on my list. It sounds a little bit like Beach Music, at least the part about the turtles.

I am so happy to see you blogging again!!!!!!!

Marcia said...

Thanks, Les. I was happy that The Beach House was finally the right book at the right time for me.