In Taylor-Hall’s long-awaited second novel (Come and Go, Molly Snow, 1995), a single mother flees an abusive boyfriend and finds life-healing respite in a quaint seashore hotel.
Jo, whose sorry track record with men began at age 14 when, pregnant, she had to drop out of high school to get married, is now finally back on track at age 42. While waitressing double shifts in New Brunswick, N.J., she’s managed to complete her bachelor’s degree over nine years and has writerly ambitions. Her four children—the oldest is 28—have three different fathers. Most troubled is daughter Wendy, 18, a mercurial neobohemian right out of Rent. Jo never learned what happened during the three weeks Wendy went missing at age 14. (Wendy refused to talk about it after a private detective rescued her.) Jo’s latest boyfriend Hank, a trucking executive, has domineering tendencies she unwisely ignores. After a too-brief birthday lunch with Wendy in New York City, Jo runs into whimsical, 60-ish, symbolically named Victor Mangold, her former writing professor. Their innocent flirtation is observed by a friend of Hank’s. Hank accuses Jo of infidelity and rapes her. Traumatized and terrified, Jo escapes to The Breakers, on the Jersey shore, where she earns a hotel manager job by helping with renovations. Among the hotel’s denizens are the usual charming eccentrics, including a 92-year-old former stripper and a genteel Russian viola player. A winsome younger gas-station owner almost thrusts her into another no-win blue-collar liaison. But Victor lures Jo back to Manhattan. Then an alarm sounds from The Breakers: Wendy is about to marry Jean-Luc, a gay Haitian musician, to help him get a green card. What begins as a woman-in-jeopardy plot shifts focus, as the Hank stalking threat simply dissipates. Except for the disclosure of Wendy’s harrowing secret, the second half of the book, dominated by the impossibly sprightly Victor, is pleasant but predictable.
Taylor-Hall’s incisive, witty prose redeems potentially mawkish material.