The true story of an unpredicted hurricane that destroyed the east end of Long Island in 1938, told through the experiences of a fictional cast of locals.
A fisherman and his wife. A young couple who have grown apart as he slaves at an ad agency in the city and she runs their house and raises their child with the help of a houseman, a former Pullman porter. A beautiful, adulterous socialite and the old guy she married for his money. Two members of the Garden Club, one content with her little family, the other stuck with an obstreperous real estate agent. An illustrator from New York who rents a shack on the beach in hopes of finding his inner artist. A mysterious beachcomber. And many more. Henderson populates her debut with a gigantic cast that includes all the different types (often, stereotypes) of people who lived in this area in the late '30s, and every single one of them has a complete backstory and a web of connections to the others. Then she unleashes the events of Sept. 21, 1938, starting with the odd, random effects of the dropping barometric pressure—a huge cloud of butterflies, a blown-out window, a balky pony—and ending with a wall of waves and cyclonic winds ripping houses apart, downing 100-year-old elms, and killing off much of the cast. The quality of execution of this ambitious project is highly inconsistent. It's a compelling story full of interesting detail about life in the area during this period. But some of the writing is shockingly poor, cliché-ridden and naïve. The vast number of characters and the complicated structure desperately need pruning, and the whole novel could have used stronger editing.
Despite its weaknesses, this book is hard to close until you find out who lives and who doesn't.