OWL ISLAND by Randy Sue Coburn


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Coburn’s beautifully realized second novel is a perceptive assessment of what women do in love.

Beautiful, strong-willed Phoebe, owner of a fish-net company, lives an agreeable life on a Puget Sound island. Her daughter Laurienne works in Seattle writing computer code, and artist Ivan, long-time friend, now lover, lives a few houses down the road. A satisfying existence, but over the course of the novel, Phoebe begins to realize hers has been a guarded life since her affair with Whit Traynor decades ago. And the reason for this fresh evaluation: A new neighbor has moved in, the now-famous director Whitney Traynor, with young wife Jasmine in tow. His appearance sends Phoebe reeling back to her enshrined memories of their relationship, the watershed moment of Phoebe’s life. As a precocious teenager in 1960s Seattle, Phoebe became entranced by a local radio deejay, the charismatic Whit, who seemed to be speaking directly to Phoebe. She wrote him smart, seductive letters, filled with whimsy and innuendo, and he replied in turn, the two never meeting until Phoebe turned 18. Phoebe proudly worked on Whit’s first feature film (suitably about artist’s muse Kiki de Montparnasse), and while he credits Phoebe for inspiration, she did much of the work. When the two split up—a messy affair of cheating and rebound romances—Phoebe is pregnant and unsure if Whit is the father. Coburn smartly reveals only the Whit that young Phoebe sees—stylish, brilliantly idiosyncratic and in love. Not until later does middle-aged Phoebe (and the reader) perceive an altogether different Whit, unprotected by the flush of youth. Now Phoebe guardedly hopes that Whit is still in love with her. Why would he move to the island? Why would he call Jasmine a replacement Phoebe? And who else but Whit could have sent her all those magical gifts—a handful of rubies, a hummingbird’s nest—through the years? This sad fantasy of true love reunited soon gives way to Phoebe gaining some hard-earned insight about her own willingness to hide in someone’s shadow.

A richly conceived portrait of memory and identity.

Pub Date: June 13th, 2006
ISBN: 0-345-48763-X
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2006