Sunday, December 6, 2009

Book Review - "Ladies of the Lake" by Haywood Smith

A prepub review I read made this book sound like an exploration into the relationship among sisters, set on a lake in the humid summer of the South. Family secrets would arise, the air may or may not get cleared, but the ladies would learn about themselves and each other. That review wasn't a bad one, but the book wasn't the deep character study I was hoping for. Instead, Ladies of the Lake is a quick read, a funny exploration into the relationship among sisters (especially two of them) with a little romance thrown in. It is indeed set on a lake in the humid summer of the South, Georgia to be exact. Take this with you if you yourself are going somewhere for summer vacation and will have a couple days to relax and read.

I also hadn't realized the characters would be in their fifties, which isn't a bad thing, just unexpected for me. Perhaps I should have paid closer attention to the author's name, for Haywood Smith also wrote a couple of books about the Red Hat club, which is a real group that allows women of a certain age to celebrate life and to stop taking themselves so seriously.

The four sisters - Dahlia, Iris, Violet, and Rose - upon the death of their eccentric grandmother Cissy, discover that in order to inherit her house on the lake, they have to spend the entire summer there together. The house is in disrepair but it holds cherished childhood memories, plus the land is worth a few million. If they stay there the whole summer, they will be able to sell it off and use the money to pay debts, invest, or spend as they wish. Their mother was invited to spend the summer with them and to share in the inheritance, but she declined. This is one aspect of the story I wish had been explored more. The mother appears largely off-screen, but she apparently came to terms with her poor relationship with Cissy years ago and is happily married and living in Florida. I wondered if she would have had a different reaction if she had come to know the real Cissy as the sisters will by the end of their stay.

Dahlia and Vi are great friends, as are Iris and Rose. Some loud, heated confrontations take place, mostly between Dahlia and Iris, as they are complete opposites and have fought most of their lives. Dahlia narrates, so we see her motivations and attitudes and can come to understand her reactions to things Iris says and does. Since we don't get the same view inside Iris's mind, we must rely on Vi and Rose to explain her. Not that that makes for an unsatisfying story, but I was hoping for more of a third person omniscient point of view.

The ladies settle in to Cissy's house and try to blend in with the locals a bit by attending a community dance, where they meet Clete. He has his eye on Dahlia, but she refuses to admit it. She's divorced but doesn't feel quite ready to move on yet. Plus she has the sense that Clete is keeping a big secret. They tiptoe around their growing attraction, which makes for some hilarious scenes. Will Dahlia finally realize Clete is perfect for her? Will he be able to persuade her to stay at the lake and be near him, or will he have to lose her to her life back in Atlanta at the end of the summer? Read and find out.

There are some ancient family secrets, and the sisters manage to engineer a new one (and which may get them into some criminal trouble). This particular activity didn't seem to make sense at first. It takes place rather early in the book, but the payoff isn't until literally the last page. I kept wondering if it had a point, which was a small distraction every time the ladies mentioned it. A rather bizarre event forces Dahlia and Clete to spend time together, but I thought that was cleverly and cutely done. Flashbacks and memories tie into present events so the threads will get woven together, but I wasn't in as much suspense as I would have liked.

Somewhere around the last third of the book--after the women have been at the lake for only a month--the author stops drawing pictures and starts writing explication. The last few scenes seem hurried and tacked-on, and I would have liked more introspection. But perhaps I went into this book with the wrong vision and I expected too much. If you're looking for something quick and light, this book will be great. If you like light romance with a hint of suspense, this book has that. It's funny, especially for female readers at the same stage in life. The author knows what she is talking about when she portrays fifty-year-old ladies trying to cook dinner to all their different dietary restrictions, or count out those daily meds, or confront the possibility of new love years after their prime. It's true that every book has its reader and every reader his or her book. This one wasn't exactly mine, but it certainly would appeal to someone else.

No comments:

Post a Comment