Author: Melanie Wallace
Publisher: Mariner Books
First Published: January 31, 2017
Genres: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Format: ARC, eBook
An unforgettable novel about a young woman and her infant son, abandoned at a seaside motel in New England, and the secrets of the townspeople who provide them with shelter.
When June arrives on the coast of New England, baby in arms, an untrustworthy man by her side, Mabel—who rents them a cabin—senses trouble. A few days later, the girl and her child are abandoned.
June is soon placed with Mabel’s friend, Iris, in town, and her life becomes entwined with a number of locals who have known one another for decades: a wealthy recluse with a tragic past; a widow in mourning; a forsaken daughter returning for the first time in years, with a stranger in tow; a lawyer, whose longings he can never reveal; and a kindly World War II veteran who serves as the town's sage. Surrounded by the personal histories and secrets of others, June finds the way forward for herself and her son amid revelations of the others' pasts, including loves—and crimes—from years ago.
In vivid, nuanced prose, Melanie Wallace—“a writer with a tender regard for the marginal, the missing and the lost”*—explores the time-tested bonds of a small community, the healing power of friendship and love, and whether the wrongs of the past can ever be made right.
I had a difficult time gathering my thoughts and deciding how I wanted to rate this book. When I closed the book after the final page, I wasn’t even sure whether or not I liked it. The primary reason for this was because I spent most of the book wondering where the story was going and waiting for the plot to start taking shape, which didn’t really happen until the end. The book appeared to start off strong, with Mabel taking in a teenage mother abandoned by an older gentleman, but from there the story just sort of meanders.
The narrative jumps from character to character, talking about their lives and what led them to where they are. After a while, the story is barely about June and baby Luke, or any character in particular, with several stories running alongside each other. There were a few romances going on between characters, and all of them made me ask why all of them seemed to involve an older man and under-aged women? I didn’t find any of them all that romantic, just mildly uncomfortable.
The book spends such a lengthy amount of time introducing and talking about characters it carried on almost to the 70% mark. All of the characters were interesting, and some I could even find believable, but after a while it just kind of got overwhelming. Characters talked about at length earlier in the novel basically disappear except for a few scenes at the end, and it makes me wonder why they are even there at all, or why I spent so much time reading about them. The ending focuses on a character that is barely present throughout most of the novel but connects to June and the baby.
“More important, Roland quietly observed one evening, is that June has Luke to anchor her.
Mabel disagreed. Anchors weigh, she reminded him.
And moor, came his reply.”
The prose was beautiful but at times confusing and heavy-handed and became tiresome to read. There was a plethora of run-on sentences that carry on for the entire length of a paragraph. The writing is almost overly descriptive, and sentences were so heavily spliced with commas that things get convoluted. I had to re-read several of these blocks of text a few times just to make sense of it. There were also no quotation marks to denote the beginning of a conversation, which wasn’t the end of the world since the speaker was usually noted after, but this style was still not favorable. The pacing is dreadfully slow. I got into the story at certain points, but it was the type of book that I could read for a chapter, then put it down and forget about it for a week.
The sentiment I got from this boiled down to the idea that happiness, love, and healing is always possible, even for those of us that are the most damned. I love this idea, but it just felt like it was executed poorly and made the whole book and its characters, as interesting as they were, feel like they lacked any real substance. I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did but I just didn’t enjoy it.