The Beach House
If the title of this book, The Beach House, and the cover illustration of dunes, a beach umbrella, and the water don’t clue you in, I’ll just go ahead and say it: this is a great beach read. I grew up “down the shore” myself, and reading this novel in landlocked Atlanta made me long for salt air and sea breezes.
Caretta Rutledge is at the end of her rope. On her 40th birthday she finds out that she no longer has a job or a boyfriend, not that the latter was any great shakes anyway. But it all leaves her willing for the first time in more than 20 years to heed her mother Lovie’s call to return to her homeplace in the South Carolina Low Country. Cara drives home to spend some time with her mother in their old beach cottage on the Isle of Palms, which Lovie has made her full-time home. Planning at first to stay only a few days, Cara ends up spending the summer, and the summer changes her whole life.
Lovie Rutledge can feel her own personal tide slowly ebbing, and she has legacies and truths to impart to her daughter before it finally goes out. The Beach House tells both mother and daughter’s stories of the one special summer they spend together, in both of their viewpoints, as well as that of Toy, the pregnant teenager whom Lovie has taken in, and who in turn cares deeply for Lovie.
Along the way we also meet a host of secondary characters, contemporaries of both Lovie and Cara, who are coming to terms with their own life choices – Lovie’s next door neighbor Flo, who is nursing her 90 year old mother through deepening dementia; Lovie’s other child and Cara’s brother Palmer, who seems in danger of following too closely in the footsteps of the father both he and Cara despised as children; Cara’s best friend Emmi, surveying the all-too-typical outcome of her storybook romance twenty years later. All feel the healing power of their stay near the sea, sooner or later, and the unwinding of how that happens makes for a lovely, emotional read.
For icing on the cake, there’s also a wonderful, slowly developing romance between Cara and an acquaintance from high school days, who now gives eco-tours of the island. Their story is a nice addition to the overall novel, but never detracts from the main story of Cara and Lovie.
And if that isn’t enough, each chapter begins with a paragraph on the life cycle of the loggerhead turtles, great sea turtles who lay their eggs on the beaches of the island (and up and down the other shore areas of the southeast coast). The loggerheads are endangered due to human encroachment on the beaches where their nesting occurs. Lovie’s role as one of the legendary “Turtle Ladies” and her gradual drawing in of Cara to the tradition of watching over and protecting the turtle nests forms one more fascinating thread to the novel.
There was nothing truly surprising in Monroe’s book, unlike in my all-time DIK benchmark of a beach novel, Anne Rivers Siddons’ Colony, which had plot twists that shocked me. The Beach House is a bit more predictable. You suspect how things are going to turn out with Lovie, Cara, and Toy and for the most part they do exactly as you expect. For that reason, while this is a book I enjoyed and which I’ll share and recommend, it didn’t quite reach DIK status with me.
However, while I was reading the novel, I was completely caught up in it. Any time I was away from The Beach House, I found myself thinking about it and eager to return to its world of the seashore, the turtles, and the mother and daughter trying to find each other before it’s too late. I once got a terrible sunburn because I was lying on the beach reading, and was so caught up in my book that I forgot to turn over for hours and hours. I had a deep red stripe down my back and my legs. I’ll just warn you that you might want to read this one while covered with sunscreen, and shaded by an umbrella, lest the same thing happen to you.