Four women. Each at a crossroads in her life. Each unsure what her future will be like, aside from the fact that it will bear no resemblance to her recent past. One beautiful summer on Nantucket island leads to personal discoveries, revelations, growth . . . transformations.
The three Fox girls’ mother, Danielle, brought her daughters to the beach at least once a week, all year long, to scour it for treasures. They would take them home and vote to see who had discovered the best treasure, with the winning discovery proudly displayed in the family kitchen on the shelf between the cookbooks. “Whatever the weather, the surf always brought treasures; their mother had taught them that.” And it was their mother who started the Beachcombers Club.
Abbie is the oldest of the three sisters. She hasn’t been home to Nantucket — or seen her father and sisters — for nearly two years. A series of distressed emails compel her back from London.
Emma had it all: A successful career as a broker with an investment firm in Boston from which she took fabulous vacations with her fiancee and fellow broker, Duncan Fairly. And then the financial market collapsed, taking with it her own savings, the money she had invested in high-risk markets for her father, her job . . . and her fiancee who announced a few months later that he was in love with another still-employed broker. Emma has returned to Nantucket. Devastated and depressed, she isn’t budging from her bed.
And Lilly is the youngest. At twenty-two, she has not yet left home. She writes a weekly social column for Nantucket Talk which means, essentially, that she attends all of the summer events and reports who makes an appearance, what they wore, who they were with. If she’s lucky, the attendees grant her an interview.
The girls’ father, Jim, a contractor, finds himself struggling to make ends meet when his business suffers an economic downturn. A small cottage adjacent to the family home served as a playhouse for the girls when they were growing up. Now it generates much-needed income for Jim as a summer rental for Marina, whose friend advised her to go to Nantucket for the summer to spend time resting, relaxing, and healing after her marriage disintegrated.
Jim has remained single in the years following the mysterious sudden death of his wife. His protective daughters, all back home for the summer, are not sure they want their father to move on with his life — especially when theirs are all in a state of turmoil and it looks like the woman he might be interested in is none other than Marina, their new tenant.
Abbie and Emma advertise their services as Nantucket Mermaids, available to perform small, odd jobs around the island. Abbie signs on to babysit adorable but troubled Harry, whose mother is a Type A shrew, while Emma spends her afternoons reading to elderly Millicent Bracebridge, an island native whose eyesight is failing. Lily, meanwhile, lands a job as the personal assistant of a wealthy older socialite. And the formerly career-driven Marina learns to live her life at a slower pace as she evaluates her options.
Of course, there are men: Little Harry has a kind-hearted, desirable father, Howell, for whom Abbie falls hard. Mrs. Bracebridge has an intelligent, available grandson, Spencer, and Lily is courted by a local boy, Jason, who dreams modest dreams that don’t involve living anywhere other than Nantucket. Whenever men are involved, there are complications, drama, and angst. Beachcombers proves there is no exception to that rule.
Bestselling author Nancy Thayer has lived on Nantucket for twenty-five years. Like an artist lovingly and painstakingly applying oil paint to a blank canvas, Thayer’s familiarity with and love of the island paint a vivid portrait of the various locales where the action unfolds. The result is that Nantucket itself becomes a character in the story. Into her narrative, Thayer also injects island history and customs, as well as social commentary about the manner in which the summer people look with disdain upon the year-round island residents, contextually undergirding much of the drama.
Who wouldn’t be drawn to spend a summer in the seaside cottage Marina rents from Jim? “It resembled a dollhouse, with wild roses rambling all over the roof and clematis and wisteria blossoming on the trellis on the outside walls. The windows were mullioned like a fairy-tale cottage. The door was bright blue. . . . Windows on three sides provided views of the birds nesting in an apple tree on her right, a pine tree on her left, and a hawthorn tree straight ahead.” The cottage is situated in the heart of the town, “off an idyllic lane in the illustrious historic district. She could walk to the grocery store, the pharmacy, the post office, the library. Tucked away at the far end of a long garden, it had once been the Playhouse for the family . . .” It is easy to empathize with Marina’s perception that, fresh from her husband’s betrayal, the island’s “flamboyant, generous beauty both hurt and healed her. Some days the intensity of the wild blue sea, the dense clouds of pink climbing roses, flew straight to her heart like an arrow, searing her with emotions, . . . But some days the beauty soothed her, even cheered her.” Mired in disappointment and heartbreak, Marina longs only to be able to walk along the beach with a smile on her face. Nantucket’s shore beckons her closer, along with the reader.
Thayer effectively conveys her innate understanding of women’s thoughts and emotions by supplying dialogue to her female characters that is believable and authentic. Perhaps no relationship on earth is as complicated, multi-layered or impenetrable than that of sisters. That Thayer clearly understands the complexities of sisters’ relationships is underscored by the fact that not a single word of the Fox girls’ many conversations seems contrived or out of place. Rather, the rhythm of the sisters’ discussions rings true, providing insight into each character’s back story and motivations.
Through the girls’ verbal sparring, the dynamics of their individual relationships with each other surface. Nowhere is this more evident than in Lily’s pouty outbursts. The youngest sister, Lily feels left out of what she perceives is a private sorority into which membership has only been granted to Abbie and Emma, as when she protests their becoming the Nantucket Mermaids without including her. Lily was only seven years old when their mother died and her strongest memory is of her mother singing her lullabies. Abbie was forced to become a substitute mother to Lily and, essentially, raise her, as well as, to a lesser degree, Emma. But at twenty-two, Lilly, who has remained at home with their father after the two older girls went off to live elsewhere, resents Abbie’s resumption of her motherly role, especially when Abbie and Emma push Lily to be take on more responsibility for household maintenance. The two older girls express their exasperation with the baby sister they think is spoiled and privileged through their own childish attempts at revenge, such as when Emma refuses to loan Lily her stylish clothing to wear to a social event upon which Lily is reporting. The siblings’ love-hate relationships are, at times, hilariously familiar and always heart-tuggingly recognizable.
In addition to Nantucket itself, Thayer supplies a varied and intriguing cast of supporting characters, including wealthy socialite Eartha Yardley, one of the summer people, who needs Lily to assist her with cataloguing her wardrobe and jewels, and ensure that she does not wear the same ensemble to any two events. In contrast, matriarch Millicent Bricebridge is a sly old native who is as devoted to the island and her family’s contributions to its heritage as she is to seeing her grandson live a happy and fulfilled life, despite his greedy mother’s interference and machinations.
And then there are the four men at the center of the girls’ and Marina’s lives. Jim is easily the most fully developed and empathetic. He has deferred his own happiness not only because of his daughters’ needs, but also because of the guilt he has kept to himself about his marriage and his inability to save the girls’ mother. When his relationship with Marina falters, his reactions are believable and well-founded in long-held fears, his behavior convincingly exasperating.
Less sympathetic is Howell. Harry’s father becomes too quickly dependent upon Abbie to rescue him and his young son from an ill-conceived marriage.
Two aspects of Beachcombers are troublesome. A couple of plot developments unfold too quickly, the prime example being Abbie’s affair with Howell. It would have been more believable and satisfying if the romance had been allowed to evolve a bit more gradually, although mutual attraction can sometimes be unexpected and become apparent quite suddenly.
The second aspect of the story that seemed a bit contrived was the fate of Marina’s former best friend. That shocking plot development serves as the impetus for Marina’s immediate need to make a critical decision about her future. The dramatic tension logically builds to the point that Marina must choose where and with whom she will spend her life. However, the plot device employed by Thayer felt highly implausible, too conveniently thrusting Marina’s story into overdrive and demanding resolution.
Both complaints are minor, though, in light of the fact that Beachcombers never bogs down, holding the reader’s interest to the very last word on the very last page.
Beachcombers is accurately heralded by the publisher as being “full of both abundant joy and heart-wrenching sorrow.” Thayer is an expert at evoking a plethora of emotions from her readers and Beachcombers does not disappoint in that regard. The opening scene of the three young girls at the beach with their mother, and later revelation of what really happened between their parents and, ultimately, to their mother, beautifully illustrates how the girls’ histories led them to their current individual states of crisis. Thayer’s story ultimately succeeds by proving Dylan Thomas wrong. You can go home again . . . to mourn the past, to regain your strength and courage, to evaluate what has transpired in your life, to remember who you love and who loves you, and plot your future course. And reclaim the treasures that you left there long ago. Amid the familiarity of that place you call home and the people who inhabit it, you might also find some unexpected, new treasures. You might find hope. Like the Fox sisters and Marina, you might just find yourself transformed.
Pack your beach tote, making sure you have a copy of Beachcombers tucked inside, along with your sunscreen, water, towel, and the other things you will need for a relaxing day at the beach or by the pool. Then get comfortable, sit back, and lose yourself in the story of the Fox sisters on Nantucket . . . you will thoroughly enjoy your time on the island.
I read Beachcombers in conjunction with the 2010 Read ‘n’ Review Challenge.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of Beachcombers free of charge from the author in conjunction with the Pump Up Your Book review and virtual book tour program. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
- Just Write Blog Carnival at Incurable Disease of Writing.
- Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon.
- Book Review Blog Carnival at Busy Moms Who Love to Read.