C. Neuroticus Absolutus
I just finished reading Porch Lights by Dorthea Benton Frank, another story about life on the barrier islands of South Carolina. They say write about what you know best. Ms. Frank was born and raised on Sullivans Island and weaves a treasure trove of knowledge and experience into one story after another about the South Carolina Lowcountry. I’ve read eight of the dozen books she has written, each with charming, lovable characters who draw the reader into real-life predicaments where Ms. Frank lets the characters lead the reader to happy endings. She writes feel-good books that go well with sun block, sand, seashells, colorful beach umbrellas and pitchers of Margaritas. She has mastered the art of storytelling with an occasional twist of humor. Moreover, whereas the average chick-lit authors write to fit the formulas of the Harlequin ilk, Ms. Frank skillfully constructs entertaining narratives outside the constricting formula mold.
Porch Lights features Jackie McMullen, an Army nurse with multiple tours of Afghanistan who is widowed when her firefighter husband dies in the line of duty. She comes home to a ten-year-old son Charlie who is devastated by his father’s passing―as is she. The boy’s depression leads her and her son from New York back to Sullivans Island and her long-separated mother and father. Jackie refuses to believe that she will ever love again and plans to return to Brooklyn before the next school year begins. But Charlie develops a relationship with his grandfather and the kind bachelor doctor next door and refuses to leave the island. An approaching hurricane provides the impetus for Jackie to leave Sullivans Island quickly, but Mother Nature moves in to put the kibosh on all human plans.
Oh, did I mention that Steve Plofker, the handsome doctor next door, eyes curvy nurse Jackie from the moment she arrives home. Before you can say Bob’s your uncle, he develops longer-range plans for Jackie than she is willing to consider. As they say, love will find a way. Or will it?
Each chapter in Porch Lights is preceded by a quote from Edgar Allen Poe, whose work The Gold Bug captures young Charlie’s imagination and leads him to discover the marvelous history of Sullivans Island, which Ms. Frank skillfully intertwines in her story. What’s more, each chapter alternates the point of view between Jackie and her mother Annie - an unusual approach considering that most agents, editors and critics say never switch points of view. However, in Porch Lights, Ms. Frank accomplishes this with a story that changes POV effortlessly and seamlessly, a credit to her mastery of her craft.
I like action/adventure Uzi-toting bad guys and all-American, Glock-in-hand heroes who look like they stepped out of a WWII Army recruiting poster. Still, with all that tiring action, I occasionally need a laid-back story that tugs at my heartstrings and lets me unwind. That’s when I turn to Ms. Frank’s creations, books guaranteed to warm your heart and let you relax.
I admit that Ms. Frank’s books are getting more predictable with the printing of each new novel. I believe her best work lies in her earlier books. Nevertheless, I like her stories. I know pretty much what I’m going to get when I take one of Ms. Frank’s novels to the cash register. No disappointments.
Bedtime or beach time, poolside or plane ride, Porch Lights is a good read.