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Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Outer Banks House

The Outer Banks House
Diann Ducharme

Crown Publishers, 2010

As the wounds of the Civil War are just beginning to heal, the once-wealthy Sinclair family builds a lone crooked cottage on the barren shores of the resort village of Nags Head. Although the local residents, known as the “bankers,” think they are crazy for being so close and vulnerable to the sea, seventeen-year-old Abigail loves the proximity of the ocean, even though she doesn’t know how to swim. Abby is beautiful and book-smart, but sheltered by her plantation life and hemmed-in by her emotionally distant family. She is also near-engaged to a family friend, Hector, who is studying to be a lawyer and considered a good catch for a Sinclair.

To make good use of her time, Abigail is encouraged by her family to teach her father’s fishing guide, the good-natured but penniless Benjamin Whimble, how to read and write. At first, she is disgusted by Ben’s fishy smell and dirty clothes, but soon she and Ben form a friendship that transcends their different classes and cultures. Ben, however, has a girlfriend and aspires to be more than just a fisherman. In an attempt to get a construction job from Abby’s father, he agrees to do him a questionable favor, which turns out to cause harm to someone else, threatening the awkward relationship he and Abby have created. Meanwhile, Hector turns up and insists on courting Abigail. She knows her parents would like her to marry Hector, but her heart belongs to Ben, despite the terrible thing he helped her father do.

Abby previously served as both teacher and parent figure for her younger siblings, but at the beach cottage she has time for herself. She learns that she loves the ocean, loves the island, loves to teach others, and wants to right the wrongs of her parents. She discovers that she wants something different than the life her parents chose for her. Ben, on the other hand, learns that the life that was chosen for him is far better than anything he could have chosen for himself.

This quiet and sleepy novel is quite enjoyable despite the awkward twists of plot and uneven pacing of action. I understand the need for action to move the plot along, but the story line starts as a quiet love affair and suddenly ratchets up to a racially provoked tense situation. I was quite troubled at the violent turn of events. I also think that the characters were unevenly developed. Abigail and Ben takes turn narrating, although Abigail dominates the narration with far more chapters. (I got the impression that the Ben chapters were added later, more as an editing afterthought.) Abby is a normal young woman who tries to please her parents, although it’s hard to understand why since they have to be the most self-centered and disagreeable parents ever portrayed in print. And what’s up with Abby’s mother? She is just plain mean.

Despite the flaws listed above, I quite enjoyed this novel until the ending, which I don’t want to give away. I wish that things didn’t wrap up quite so nicely and that Abby’s mother was portrayed more realistically throughout the story. She experiences an abrupt personality change at the end, which startles the reader, and frankly, minimizes the pain she caused the children. This sudden change is never really explained. Also, Abigail’s father is left dwindling at the end – what happens to him? Otherwise, this is a pleasant summer read, even if the end is a bit unsatisfying. Maybe a sequel is in the works…

This is the author’s first novel.

Rating (see key below):

Other books you may enjoy:

The Keeper’s Son by Homer Hickman
Separating himself from his family of lighthouse keepers in order to work for the Coast Guard, World War II Outer Banks resident Josh Thurlow searches for his brother, lost at sea 20 years earlier, in the wake of invading U-boats.

Nights in Rodanthe by Nicholas Sparks
After her husband leaves her for a younger woman, forty-five-year-old Adrienne Willis reconsiders her entire life, until a trip to Rodanthe in North Carolina's outer banks leads to an encounter with successful surgeon Paul Flanner.

Outer Banks by Anne Rivers Siddons
They came together as four sorority sisters on a Southern campus is the '60s, spending two idyllic spring breaks at Nag's Head, North Carolina. Now, thirty years later, they are coming back to recapture the exquisite magic of those early years, to experience again the love, enthusiasm, passion, pain, and cruel betrayal that shaped the four young girls into women.

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