Thursday, May 15, 2008

Review: Sullivan's Island

Sullivan's Island: a Lowcountry tale by Dorothea Benton Frank
4 stars

Reason for reading: Its South Carolina setting, took it on my trip.

First line: "I searched for sleep curled up in my quilt - the one made for me at my birth by my paternal grandmother's own hands."

Summary (from Publisher's Weekly): "Susan Hamilton Hayes's comfortable Charleston existence is shattered when she finds her husband in bed with another woman. Faced with a failed marriage, a confused teenage daughter and a mediocre job, she sets about the business of healing. Slowly, supported by visits to her sister in their childhood home on sleepy Sullivan's Island, Susan becomes a successful newspaper columnist, regains her confidence as a woman (despite a hilariously deflating date) and finally explores the death of her complex, abusive father decades before. Chapters alternate between the present and 1963, the year her father died, as Susan faces both the strength and the damaging effects of her family legacy... both the setting and the characters are blazingly authentic. Frank evokes the eccentric Hamilton family and their feisty Gullah housekeeper with originality and conviction; Susan herself - smart, sarcastic, funny and endearingly flawed - makes a lively and memorable narrator. Thanks to these scrappily compelling portraits, this is a rich read."

My thoughts: This was the perfect book to take to Charleston with me! Even though we didn't get to Sullivan's Island itself, the novel is dripping with local details of Charleston and the surrounding area. I always get a charge out of reading about a place I've just seen, even if it's just something trivial. For example, the Citadel Mall - Susan and her daughter go there to get makeovers, we'd just been there to shop at Target.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel had this to say: "Authentic characters and setting...a very moving story of family, love, and place." And I think that sums it up very well. Susan's relationship with her older sister Maggie was very well done and Susan's relationship with her teenage daughter Beth is very realistic - incredibly loving but also a lot of frustration! The best part of the novel was the family's Gullah housekeeper, Livvie - a strong, wise, spiritual woman with a sense of humour and a fiercely protective streak, she basically raised the 6 children because their mother was a non-steel magnolia and their father was incredibly abusive. Maggie and Susan still speak Gullah to each other and their families, decades later. The family home on Sullivan's Island, the Island Gamble, is a character by itself - it has weathered hurricanes and is completely bizarre-looking, with rooms added on as the family needed them. Maggie turns it into a wonderfully welcoming home where her siblings can connect with the comforting parts of their past, rather than the tragic ones.

A glance at the Southern section at the Mount Pleasant Barnes and Noble revealed that Frank is even more prolific than I'd realized - I can tell she's going to keep me in South Carolinian books for quite some time! And I can't wait to visit Sullivan's Island on our next trip down there!


Stephanie said...

Sounds like a wonderful book! I've been to Charleston a couple of times. Beautiful city!! Hope you had a nice trip!

tinylittlelibrarian said...

It is, I'm really looking forward to reading more by her. It really is beautiful, we didn't want to leave! :)