BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES. By Mary Alice Monroe. Gallery Books. 385 Pages. $26.
Certain books become etched into readers’ memories by way of story or writing or an enduring impression a writer leaves. Mary Alice Monroe’s “Beach House Memories” will become ingrained in readers’ minds by all three means.
The story begins as Lovie Rutledge heads to her beloved beach house on the Isle of Palms with her two children to spend another privileged summer chronicling the nesting patterns of loggerhead turtles. When Dr. Russell Bennett, a notable marine biologist, shows up to conduct a study of the impact that a new resort development will have on the loggerhead population, the two quickly bond over their appreciation for the ancient sea beasts and, inevitably, fall in love.
Both are plagued by bad marriages and must determine whether they should give in to their passions or to subscribe to the Southern conventions that dictate keeping such perfunctory marriages together and lovers apart.
Most of the novel is set in 1974 against a backdrop of Southern protocol and the reality of women who swallowed what polite society was feeding them at the time: a life as a wife and mother, staying home to perform the expected duties of homemaker and hostess.
Monroe captures a world that was being transformed by the women’s movement, one offering new opportunities. Unfortunately, many of those women were caught between the limited choices they’d made and the new ones that were being forged for them.
In Monroe’s environmental approach to women’s fiction, she uses the analogy of the loggerhead turtles to show how places can anchor people, as well as the turtles. Her analogy also shows how new hatchlings, like people, sometimes must venture beyond the safety of home into the unknown to explore new horizons and live their lives.
Her story, harboring a host of ghost crabs, ghost voices and ghost smiles, reveals that a woman’s life is sometimes a result of a series of random decisions that follow and haunt her forever.
The story is pressed tightly between the pages of the present like some cherished memento placed between the pages of a book. “Beach House Memories” likely will remain pressed between the reader’s head and heart long after the last page is turned.
Reviewer Vicki Wilkerson, managing editor for Entangled Publishing