Dorthea Benton Frank is a southern writer. Her works have been compared to Pat Conroy and Anne Rivers Siddons. Nine years ago, those comparisons lead me to pick up her first book Sullivan's Island. I loved it.
The publisher synopsis really doesn't capture the magic of her writing or the powerful back story about her family, South Carolina and desegregation.
Set in the steamy, stormy landscape of South Carolina, Sullivan's Island tells the unforgettable story of one woman's courageous journey toward truth.
Born and raised on idyllic Sullivan's Island, Susan Hayes navigated through her turbulent childhood with humor, spunk, and characteristic Southern sass. But years later, she is a conflicted woman with an unfaithful husband, a sometimes resentful teenage daughter, and a heart that aches with painful, poignant memories. And as Susan faces her uncertain future, she realizes that she must go back to her past. To the beachfront house where her sister welcomes her with open arms. To the only place she can truly call home.
When I read last year that Frank was writing an sequel Return to Sullivan's Island, I immediately added it to my summer reading list. Then I started think about the original book, Sullivan's Island. I realized that my memory was pretty hazy; so hazy that it would make sense to re-read the book.
Actually, it turned out to be a good/bad decision.
The good part is that Sullivan's Island is well written, engrossing and I would have missed some of the subtleties of the Return if I had not reread it. It was as much fun to reread as it had been to read.
The bad part is that in the Return to Sullivan's Island the plot and the writing were definitely not up to the same standard. I actually found myself wishing that she had not returned. Or at least not in this particular fashion. I found the return was incredibly disappointing and stretching my credulity beyond it's normal limits.
I'm not sure it would have been so disappointing if I had read the books separately or if I had never read Frank before. Return to Sullivan's Island is an "OK" beach read; it is mindless reading that will keep you entertained for several hours. Great literature it is not. Sullivan's Island on the other hand is recommended reading for the beach or anywhere else you happen to be!
Dorothea Benton Frank returns to the enchanted landscape of South Carolina's Lowcountry made famous in her beloved New York Times bestseller Sullivans Island to tell the story of the next generation of Hamiltons and Hayes.
Newly graduated from college and an aspiring writer, Beth Hayes craves independence and has a world to conquer. But her notions of travel, graduate study, and writing the great American novel will have to be postponed. With her mother, Susan, leaving to fulfill her own dreams in Paris and her Aunt Maggie, Uncle Grant, and stepfather, Simon, moving to California, Beth is elected by her elders to house-sit the Island Gamble.
Surrounded by the shimmering blue waters of the Atlantic, the white clapboards, silver tin roof, and confessional porch have seen and heard the stories of generations of Hamiltons. But will the ghosts of the Island Gamble be watching over Beth? Buoyed by sentimental memories of growing up on this tiny sandbar that seems to be untouched by time, Beth vows to give herself over to the Lowcountry force and discover the wisdom it holds. She will rest, rejuvenate, and then reenter the outside world. Just as she vows she will never give into the delusional world of white picket fences, minivans, and eternal love, she meets Max Mitchell. And all her convictions and plans begin to unravel with lightning speed. There is so much about life and her family's past that she does not know. Her ignorance nearly costs her both her inheritance and her family's respect. But Beth finds unexpected friends to help her through the disaster she faces: her wise and charming Aunt Sophie; Cecily Singleton, the granddaughter of Livvie Singleton; and Woody Morrison, the solid young investment banker.
This wonderful ensemble of characters could be your own family, but watch what unfolds as they succumb to the island's spell. If everything happens for a reason, then Beth's return to Sullivans Island teaches her that betrayal and tragedy are most easily handled when you surround yourself with loyal family and friends in a magical place that loves you so much that it wants to claim you as its own.