Sea Change

Karen White
June 2012, Women's Fiction
NAL, $15.00, 416 pages, Amazon ASIN 0451236769

Grade: C+
Sensuality: Subtle

When looking on Amazon for information about the latest book in Ms. White’s Tradd Street series, I came across this book. I enjoy Ms. White’s “grit lit" - southern women’s fiction - and her writing is eloquent and evocative. Both aspects are present in this book, but I did have some problems with the plotting and the pacing. Still, even though the book was drawn-out I can’t say that I completely regret the time spent reading it.

Although Ava Whalen and Phil were engaged for four years she never was able to set a date. She has fought a feeling of restlessness and not belonging all her life. But once she meets Matthew Frazier all that changes. Impetuously she and Matthew elope after only a month together, to the dismay of her family and Phil.

She is eager to start her new life as Matthew’s wife even if she doesn’t have her family’s full support. Although she is deathly afraid of water and has been all her life, she is willing to face her fears, since Matthew’s ancestral home is on Simons Island off the coast of Georgia.

Upon arriving at his home Ava has an eerie feeling that she has lived there all her life. But that is not the only disconcerting emotion she has to face. Trish, a longtime friend of Matthew’s deceased parents who stepped in to act as his surrogate family lets slip that Ava is Matthew’s second wife and his first wife was also a midwife.

Matthew has a good explanation why he didn’t tell her about his first marriage or his wife’s death. But then every time Ava confronts him about additional uncovered secrets he always has a glib if logical reason.

Living with the ghost of Matthew’s first wife, and fighting the feeling of déjà vu, Ava endeavors to learn more about the woman her husband loved and Matthew’s ancestors. Matthew seems to hinder her every move. Her heart tells her one thing but her head tells her another. Who is the man she married?

The book is told from three points of view: Ava’s, Ava’s mother Gloria, and Pamela, a midwife from the 19th century that lived on the same property. While I understand that Ms. White's intention in illustrating Ava’s secret-filled life, both past and present, Ava’s history and her relationship with her mother were not compelling aspects of the story and just bogged the book down. And really at first it was a stretch to see a correlation between Ava’s life and Pamela’s, even with the commonality of their shared career. The family dynamics were just so different. But I suspect that was Ms. White’s intent - keep the reader guessing. Is this a case of reincarnation or not?

Matthew refuses to disclose pertinent facts and even hides information from Ava, leaving me to wonder if he got his psychology degree from an off-shore school. How could someone trained in facilitating relationships get everything so wrong? Of course, this is the gothic style. The hero is never forthcoming and always says something like if you love me, trust me. That plot device worked for me long ago, but now not so much. At the end of the book, I honestly wanted to slap him upside the head. A simple conversation would have resolved all the issues.

The leisurely beginning didn’t bother me at first, but toward the middle it became very vexing. I felt torn, with Ms. White’s talented writing and the twist and turns pulling me in the story, but the slow disclosure of information generated more impatience than interest. Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore and jumped to the end. The story was intriguing but not compelling. Several times I could have put the book down and not picked it back up, especially after reading the end. The characters are authentic - well, except for Matthew. The setting is interesting and the Southern essence of the book is enticing. I enjoyed the historical aspect of it too, although not so much Ava’s research methods. I much preferred being show the history through Pamela’s eyes.

This book ended up being a mixed bag for me with equal amounts of positive aspects mixed up with negatives, leaving me only able to give this book a qualified recommendation.

-- Leigh Davis

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