Four virtual strangers are brought together by a secluded cottage off the coast of Maine in Bowen’s charming adult debut.
In Park Slope, Brooklyn, Lottie Wilkes, a young mom in an increasingly tepid marriage, spots an ad on the Happy Circle Friends preschool bulletin board. “Hopewell Cottage,” it reads. “Little Lost Island, Maine.” Immediately enchanted with the idea of the rental (“springwater, blueberries, sea glass,” the post promises), Lottie recruits Rose, a fellow Happy Circle mom with marital issues of her own, to come with her. Still in need of “two more desperate women” to go in on the venture—the romantic young lutist who’s renting out the place has given them blanket permission to take along “whoever needs to go there”—the pair put up flyers of their own, thus securing the unlikely presences of Caroline Dester and Beverly Fisher. Caroline is a disgraced movie star; Beverly is a curmudgeonly older gentleman with an ambiguous name who's in mourning for both his partner and his beloved cat. Together, the four are a mismatched crew. But under the spell of Atlantic breezes and away from the traumas of their New York lives, they settle into affable companionship, punctuated by idyllic island activities (the August cocktail party, the Monday market boat). Refreshed as they are by the Little Lost air, though, they cannot entirely escape the problems and passions of home, and when visitors from New York begin to pop up at the cottage, they must find their ways back, sometimes painfully, to their real lives. With touches of Shakespearian comedy, this is a light read, bright and kind and optimistic. For all of the novel’s marital troubles and broken dreams, there’s little pathos here. Bowen’s characterizations are sensitive, if not particularly complicated; her writing is witty but gentle. It’s not a challenging book, but it is an exceedingly likable one.
A thoroughly pleasant summer read as breezy as the island itself.