Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Beach Book

Since Borders and Davis-Kidd Booksellers both closed, leaving Nashville with only used book stores, I have to find new books at Amazon. Or ,on impulse, I might browse the magazine aisle at Kroger, which is as well-stocked with new hardcovers and trade paperbacks as it is with magazines.Then, exhausted by working night shift and worn out by summer heat, I reach for the summer beach novel.

Beach novel covers feature deck chairs with a towel tossed over them, or a sunhat on a dune, or three lithe young blondes arm and arm, sister with sister, finally learning to get along. Some take place in Maine. Three I read were set in Nantucket, where beach houses rent for 35 thousand dollars a month.Now I once rented a house on Nantucket, out in Madaket. I was making under five dollars an hour as a new RN at the time. I cannot remember how much the rent was, but I know it was not $8000.00 a week.

Looking at their covers one might become suspicious that these novels might be the same book. And one would be right. I read four of them back to back, and when I closed the cover of the last one ,I went running for my Library of America Phillip Chandler to resuscitate my brain. There is nothing "The Long Goodbye" and "The Lady in the Lake" cannot cure.

Except cancer, the most frequent cause of deaths in beach books right along up there with personal sailboat accidents( which could be suicide or homicide or maybe a combination of both. Or the deceased might just have been drunk).

These books always have a small coven of women who are either sisters, cousins, aunts, or mothers. If they don't get along at the beginning of their vacation they will by the end, and one of them will survive chemo. In one book the 60ish heroine has a heart attack at the end and is welcomed to the afterlife by the Great Love of her life, a pre-teen boy who took a sailboat out on a suicide run after his father broke it to him that their family was Jewish.

In a second book, just released, the sad, broke wife of a Bernie Madoff like figure spends the summer on Nantucket with a rich friend, hiding out at the friend's cottage. The disgraced wife is honest and goodhearted. We know this because she is so accepting of her boutique-less future. But who needs Chanel shoes to walk down a beach with rich friends who never let the lobster run out?

The women in these books are not graduates of Tennessee Tech. They went to the best prep schools, the finest colleges. And so did the men in their lives. Men who turn out to be lying cheaters. Yet there is solace for these disappointed women. The islands are full of caretakers, house fixers, and male nannies who are nothing less than Nature's Noblemen. They are often widowers, which makes things convenient for the final wrapping up of story lines. And what if one not only is a caretaker, but the owner of many rental houses. More lobster! More Shoes! More $10 designer muffins!

Forget Nantucket. Give me some LA noir and Raymond Chandler. And by the way I rented that house on Nantucket almost 40 years ago. I do not think the middle class is allowed there anymore.

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