I tasted briny water as the world went silent around me, a liquid world I vaguely remembered from the beginning of a journey. What was only seconds suddenly felt like a lifetime, a moment in time spent immersed in the peacefulness of knowing everything and nothing at the same time, of understanding how the water could carry us in any direction regardless of how hard we fought against the current.
(from Sea Change, page 305)
Karen White is one of the few authors I turn to when I’m in need of a comfort read. I’ll read anything she has published, and while I might not love every book, I’m confident before I even start reading that I’m at least going to enjoy it. And she certainly didn’t let me down with her latest novel, Sea Change.
Set on St. Simons Island, Georgia, Sea Change successfully weaves together the past and the present in the story of Ava Whalen, a young midwife who falls passionately in love with Matthew Frazier, a child psychologist, and marries him after knowing him for just a couple of months. Ava knows in the marrow of her bones that she and Matthew belong together, and despite her intense fear of water, she leaves her family home in Antioch to move into the island home that has belonged to the Fraziers for hundreds of years.
Soon after arriving on the island, Ava learns that Matthew was married before and that his first wife, Adrienne, also a midwife, died under mysterious circumstances. Matthew seems intent on putting the past behind him and moving forward with his new life with Ava, but Ava understandably feels uncomfortable living in a home with so many reminders of Adrienne. At the urging of Tish, a Frazier family friend, Ava becomes a member of the historical society and grows increasingly interested in digging up the Frazier family history. Her need to piece together the story of Geoffrey Frazier, whose ghost is said to roam the island in search of the wife who supposedly left him for a British soldier, becomes entwined with her need to know more about Adrienne, why Matthew is withholding information, and why she feels so drawn to the island even though she has dreams of drowning.
White also includes two other points of view, that of Ava’s mother, Gloria, who loves Ava deeply but feels a need to keep her at arms’ length, and that of Pamela, a midwife whose life is thrown into chaos by the War of 1812. Ava already has enough to contend with when it comes to the secrets in her new marriage without having to deal with the suspicions of Adrienne’s brother, John, whatever her mother is hiding, and the skeletons in the Frazier closet.
I love how White always manages to move seamlessly between the past and the present and cleverly connect the two. I thought Pamela’s story was the stronger of the two and the most compelling. Pamela’s fragile relationship with her younger sister, Georgina, and how her fierce love for her husband and son prevented her from seeing the bigger picture were skillfully depicted. I liked Ava, but her story didn’t grab me the way Pamela’s did, and I grew tired of her mother after awhile. I think the pace of the present-day story could have been quickened a bit, and I also wish Matthew’s character was more well developed. Ava’s intense love for him is expressed time and again, but readers never really see for themselves what makes Matthew such a wonderful guy.
Nevertheless, Sea Change is an enjoyable novel, and with all the water imagery and life on the island, it’s a perfect book for the summer. If you love the convergence of the past and the present and novels about family secrets and relationships between sisters and mothers and daughters, then you’ll want to get your hands on a copy.
© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.