Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Magic Done Gone, Y'all

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Generations of Beth Hayes' family grew up on the shores of Sullivan's Island, South Carolina. Their rambling old beach house - Island Gamble - has seen all their tragedies, triumphs and downright disasters. As much as Beth loves the old house, it's really her mother's refuge, not hers. So, when she's asked to housesit for a year while her mother flits off to Paris, she grumbles. A lot. Not only has she just graduated from Boston College, but Beth's got plans to attend the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Now, the family's asking her to put her life on hold to babysit their crumbling house of horrors. True, there are worse places to write than the beach. But, still ...

In Dorothea Benton Frank's Return to Sullivan's Island, Beth Hayes does just that - returns to the island where she's spent countless days roaming the dunes, searching for crabs, and watching the tide roll in from the Gamble's back porch. With the relatives pursuing their various dreams in faraway locales like France and California, Beth has the place to herself. Well, kinda. She has Lola, her miniature Yorkshire - plus all the cranky dead Hamiltons who just can't seem to pass peacefully to the other side. Beth's not about to put up with all their antics - slamming doors, creaking floors, creepy turn down service - but the spirits aren't necessarily cooperating with this uppity new generation.

With characteristic (inherited?) aplomb, Beth sets about making a life for herself on the island. Her job search yields opportunities for friendship, even career advancement. It also leads her into the arms of handsome Max Mitchell, a developer who's determined to introduce Sullivans Island to the modern age. Sure, he's a little distracted, but it's not long before Beth's imagining what their kids would look like. Her new friend, Cecily, who also happens to be the granddaughter of Livvie Singleton (The Hayes' beloved Gullah maid), cautions Beth against falling too hard. But, it's too little too late. Soon, she's got so much going on even she can hardly keep things straight - with two jobs to work, a man to keep, and a family of haints to appease, her hands are full to overflowing. Then there's her family - her cousin's drinking heavily; her Aunt Allison seems to have gone off the deep end, and Aunt Sophie just doesn't sound like herself. Beth, always the responsible one, must handle it all. But, what about her own needs? When is her life ever going to begin? Is there really a place for her on Sullivan's Island?

Sullivan's Island (which I reviewed here) charmed me with its Southern magic, but its sequel just doesn't have the same juju. The new characters aren't nearly as appealing (except for Cecily, who sparkles, just like Livvie did); even those from the first book seem duller somehow. I spent a lot of the book asking, "When did Beth turn into such a brat?" It was only toward the end that she started growing on me. A little. Frank's wild swings in point of view also drove me crazy - the majority of the book comes straight from Beth, but occasionally, Frank would linger in another character's head, giving his/her POV. I hate that. Plotwise, Return to Sullivan's Island is generic and predictable, even a little boring. I still love the authenticity of the setting, with that hint of Gullah magic in the air, but it doesn't leap off the page like it did in the first book. Conclusion? I wanted more from this sequel, and it just didn't deliver. Sorry y'all, but the magic's gone 'eah.

Grade: C

If this was (were?) a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for some language, some sexual content, some violence, and references to drug use and underrage drinking.

This review is part of Dorothea Benton Frank's virtual tour with MotherTalk. For more opinions, check out this page.

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