Spirits of all types haunt characters in Godwin’s latest examination of grief and loss.
Cast adrift after the death of his devoted single mother—who had not yet revealed the identity of his father—preternaturally self-aware 11-year-old Marcus finds himself in the care of his enigmatic great-aunt, Charlotte, a reclusive painter and inhabitant of a coastal South Carolina island. With an entire summer to adjust to life in his new situation before school starts, Marcus endeavors to make sense of his present surroundings as well as his past. His attentions focus on Grief Cottage (the site of a local tragedy) and the caretaking efforts undertaken each year by island residents to ensure the safe passage of hatching sea turtles as they journey to the ocean. Marcus’ fascination with the ghostly presence of an adolescent boy, thought to have perished at Grief Cottage in a hurricane, allows Godwin (Publishing: A Writer's Memoir, 2015, etc.) to explore themes of loss, connection, and growth unfettered by the corporeal world. A cast of island denizens and old friends aids Marcus in his quest to understand his place in the world and illustrates the concept of family as he searches for the reality of it. Readers willing to suspend disbelief in the paranormal occurrences facing the pubescent Marcus may still struggle with the unusually high levels of awareness—of self and others—in his narration, relatively rare traits in a character his age. Echoes of the mysterious isolation in Marcus’ family’s past sound throughout the novel, suggesting that home and family may best be experienced as we create them, not as we expect them.
Godwin approaches many of her usual melancholic themes from a different angle and raises the question of whether we get what we want or we get what we need.