This is a lovely story set in North Carolina in a fictional island village called Starry Point. Five years previously Lane Kramer left a failed marriage in Chicago and ended up in The Outer Banks, opening a bed and breakfast called The Cloister.
As the story begins, a tropical storm is moving into the area and Lane has just closed the business down for the winter. Nevertheless, when an English professor traveling from Vermont, Michael Forrester, appears at the door, she can hardly turn him away.
Lane finds Michael undeniably handsome, but he seems moody, opinionated, and reclusive. When he asks to stay for the winter though, she accepts; she could use the money, and besides, there have been a rash of break-ins on the island lately; she would feel better with someone else in the house.
Every morning Lane takes a walk out to the lighthouse, and she has started taking along tea and baked goods for a disheveled older woman who also walks out on the dunes every day. The woman gives her name as Mary, and Lane feels drawn to her; at the very least, she worries that the woman has no one else to talk to her. Lane is curious about who Mary is, and what brings her to the dunes every day.
One evening not long after Michael arrived, Lane and her mother have a fight over the phone, and in an effort to get her mother off of her back about her being alone, Lane tells her she does have a boyfriend, and he is living with her. But this only complicates matters: Lane’s mother appears on her doorstep unexpectedly to meet this new boyfriend, and a panicky Lane is saved when Michael picks up the ball and plays the role of the boyfriend. Both of them find they like this play-acting a lot.
Meanwhile, the mayor has announced he is shutting down Hope House, the halfway house where Mary lives, because he suspects the residents of being behind the break-ins. Lane is incensed – the mayor has no evidence, and she vows to help Mary.
Michael, Lane, and Mary have a lot in common: all three have been badly hurt suffering grievous losses, and all have given up fighting for better lives. They are all running from, instead of running toward something. As the lives of these three as well as Lane’s mother intersect, they come to realize the enormity of what is at stake.
Discussion: The author has an excellent skill of evoking loss, and the thought processes that accompany it. At one point, Mary explains:
“We never dream we might lose those we love, because it’s too terrible, too inconceivable. They are simply the furniture of our lives, to be sidestepped, rearranged, and even stumbled over. Then one day they are simply gone, erased, and you’re left with only empty rooms and the echo of what once belonged to you.”
Such passages really make you think about the loved ones in your own life – how much we take their presence for granted. As Jhumpa Lahiri observed: “The best sentences orient us, like stars in the sky, like landmarks on a trail.”
The author also must be commended for the absence of “insta-love” in this book. The relationship between Lane and Michael develops in a dance of one step forward, two steps back, with the outcome of the movements far from a sure thing.
Evaluation: This is a good story, and well told. The characters seem real, and are all quite likable. The Outer Banks is more than just background to the story, and holds its own in the cast. And while the quote I included is about loss, this is an uplifting story. The characters discover that blame takes up a lot of space in the heart; if you can only figure out a way to let it go and forgive, there may once again be enough room for love.
Published by NAL Accent, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA), 2014