Reading a novel based in your own city can be a cool combination of sweet and strange. Just as you’re swimming in the thoughts of a character, caught up in a scenario far from your own, you hear a name dropped, like Fast and French, and your mind shifts back to the present reality. I even caught myself staring off the page, my mind wandering into the busy Broad Street restaurant as I daydreamed of cold cucumber soup and pâté.
But a Charleston local can also commiserate with 34-year-old Eleanor Murray as she negotiates through downtown traffic, an all-too familiar afternoon downpour clouding her view. We know the summer heat that takes our breath away, and we can taste the same thick, salty air that has defined the childhood of this main character.
Eleanor has spent most of her adult life repressing memories of her Edisto upbringing for the purpose of self-preservation, to separate herself from the memory of losing her father there years ago to a fatal boating accident. Yet she is forced to reopen her wounds when her boss, Finn, asks her to look after his elderly aunt Helena at her home on that very same barrier island.
But one Edisto memory Eleanor will never shake is when she died, and was revived, 14 years ago after she and her sister fell from a tree. Her sister Eve was paralyzed. Eleanor has taken care of her ever since, unable to forgive herself for the tree-climbing dare or her secret affection for Glen, Eve’s husband.
When Eleanor spends more time with Helena to avoid emotional landmines back home in North Charleston, she also gets to know Finn’s daughter, Gigi. By forming new friendships, Eleanor soon realizes others have had their heartaches, too. Gigi, 10 years old and four years cancer-free, is a sage of sorts for the lost Eleanor. And the recent death of Helena’s sister is a heartache that so far only Eleanor’s piano-playing and playful heckling seem to heal. The bond these two women eventually form reveals truths about sisters, loss, and grief. Long-buried secrets unfold as they realize what it is to confide, to forgive, and, possibly, to let go.
With poignant prose, delicate storylines, and an obvious affection for the Lowcountry, author Karen White gives us an incredible, if emotional, place to go and while away the days on the same Carolina beaches she describes so carefully in The Time Between. She has a Tradd Street series (The Strangers on Montagu Street was a New York Times bestseller) too that should keep your summer reading schedule busy once you fly through the salt water-soaked pages of this well-worded reminder that our lives within this landscape really are lovely.