Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Lowcountry Summer Disappoints This Long-time Dorothea Benton Frank Fan

After three long weeks spent with Dorothea Benton Franks' newest release Lowcountry Summer: A Plantation Novel, I finally finished it last night. I've been a Frank fan since her first novel Sullivan's Island was published. She is a true southern author, with almost all of her books set along South Carolina's coastline. I have read all of her books, and enjoyed each one -- until this one. I'm not sure exactly why I didn't particularly like Lowcountry Summer. While I loved main character Caroline Wimbley in Franks' second novel Plantation, she somehow fell flat in this sequel. Broken following her divorce and her mother's death, Caroline was a sympathetic character in Plantation. In Lowcountry Summer she comes across as a snotty, unfeeling and archaic stereotype of a southern lady. Lowcountry Summer takes place ten years after the events in Plantation. That time frame has removed Caroline from the devastation she felt at losing her mother and failing in her marriage. Rather than growing older and wiser, she seems almost more immature in this novel.

Another problem I had with the novel was its lack of a cohesive plot. Ostensibly, the premise is Caroline's brother Trip's ongoing family issues. His estranged wife Frances Mae is still causing trouble for the Wimbley family, made worse by her ongoing alcoholism. After she is shipped off to an Intervention-style recovery center in California, Trip and his live-in girlfriend Rusty attempt to care for Trip's four daughters. They need help with the rebellious teenagers and spoiled youngest daughter, of course, from Aunt Caroline -- with varying results. I felt as though the action of the novel was far removed from the main character; although Caroline involves herself heavily in Trip's family life, it seemed staged and unrealistic. The plot just didn't flow for me.

Another issue I had with the novel was its annoying plot twist with a death (no spoiler! just a warning...) that seemed entirely unnecessary to me. It was as though Frank simply couldn't think of a way to make the last half of the novel interesting, so she threw in a death to mix things up. Frank does many things beautifully -- descriptive setting, southern dialogue, and (usually) interesting character portraits. But none of those could save her eleventh novel. I love the idea of returning to characters written about years ago; Franks' Return to Sullivan's Island was an excellent example of how sequels can work perfectly. I drooled over it! (Literally -- the recipes and food described sounded unbelievably good.) I'm still a die-hard Frank fan, and I'll continue reading her novels as soon as they come out. I just wouldn't recommend this as a good example of what she's capable of writing.

The world would be a boring place if we all felt the same about things, so here are some positive reviews of the novel to balance my opinion:

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