Frank’s latest is her usual warmhearted look at grief, healing and South Carolina coastal life.
Jackie McMullen, an Army nurse, is relieved from her deployment in Afghanistan when she becomes the sole support of her 10-year-old son, Charlie. Her husband, Jimmy, a New York City firefighter, was killed in the line of duty. Her mother, Annie Britt, insists Jackie bring Charlie, who is deeply depressed after the loss of his father, to summer at the “Salty Dog,” the Britts’ Sullivan’s Island home. Although Charlie takes immediately to Lowcountry beachcombing, Jackie is unsettled by her mother’s obvious crush on Steve, the widowed dermatologist next door, who, Jackie notes ruefully, would rather flirt with daughter than mother. Annie is still married to Jackie’s father, Buster, although they have lived apart for 11 years (ever since Buster embarked on an extended fishing trip). But the presence of his only grandson lures Buster back to the Salty Dog, as does, although he won’t admit it, rekindled passion for Annie since her recent overhaul by a Charleston makeover maven. When Charlie himself (channeling Annie’s fondest wish) starts angling to stay on Sullivan’s Island instead of returning to Brooklyn, Jackie is torn. Jimmy’s grave is in New York, and her mother can still push every one of her buttons, for example when she insists on telling Charlie morbid Edgar Allen Poe tales right before bedtime. The sudden death of a neighbor, the husband of Annie’s best friend Deb, triggers a vicarious crisis that soon has the Britt family rethinking its priorities. Jackie and Doctor Steve, of course, both glimpse the possibility of moving on from loss together. Although leavened with wry humor, particularly in the sections narrated by Annie, the story stumbles under the weight of too many clichés. Moreover, Frank’s target demographic may be put off by the portrayal of Annie and other aging Boomers as positively geriatric.
Happy families are all alike, which is why, even on the beach, they can be a bore.