It's finally summer. You pull out your rainbow colored sand chair and faded, faithful beach bag. Throw in the soft, terrycloth towel, the #30 sunscreen, lip balm, bottle of water ---and a “beach read.”
The “beach read” is an odd animal. It doesn't demand anything of us. The plot can be loose, or even non-existant. The language doesn't have to be pure, poetic, or the message profound. The beach read is minldess fun, and the setting is always --- the beach.
David Baldacci, known for being a good story teller (not a great writer---there is a distinct difference) is remembered for best sellers including Absolute Power, Total Control, The Whole Truth, and The Sixth Man, books with decent plots and compelling characters.
For some reason, Baldacci decided that he wanted to try his hand at being Nicholas Sparks. In fact, in his acknowledgements he writes, “To Michelle, for taking the journey with me. To Mitch Hoffman for readily jumping in with both feet on something so different. To David Young and Jamie Raab for allowing me to stretch.” (p.335) The one thing that none of those acknowledged did was tell Baldacci that being Nicholas Sparks didn't fit David Baldacci all that well.
The basic story is that of Jack Armstrong, a man with a beautiful wife, Lizzie, and three children, Mikki, Corey, and little Jack. Jack is dying of cancer that is 100% fatal in all cases. In his waning hours of life, Lizzie braves the cold and ice of Chicago to get her man his needed meds, and ironically dies in a car crash.
In this eerie reversal of fortune, Jack becomes “the miracle man,” and rises, like Lazarus, into an inexplicable remission. Now, instead of leaving his children, he must find his way back to them, despite the challenges thrown his way by Lizzie's vincictive mother, some “good ole boys” in South Carolina, the wrath of the unforgiving tabloids, and most of all, himself.
The book, unfortunately, is rife with problems. As a Creative Writing teacher, the first lesson that I always taught my students was that “characters drive your story.” In One Summer the characters are so cliched and predicatable that it is impossible to care that much about them.
Take 15 year old Mikki, a sullen adolescent with a bad attitude about everything; her father almost dying, then her father living, then her mother dying. It's always about her. Her music. The boys she meets in South Carolina. Being the object of bullying. Being robbed of winning a talent contest when clearly she and her boyfriend, Liam, deserved to win.
Here comes the big HOWEVER. I stayed up all night and read the novel in one sitting. The redeeming feature of One Summer is its setting, a run down beach house where Lizzie and her twin sister, Tilly, had spent many happy summers with their parents and grandparents---until Tilly died. Lizzie got it into her head that by using the ramshackle lighthouse on the property, she could find the hole leading to heaven where she could reunite with her lost sibling.
Now Jack is obsessed with the lighthouse, only he wants to touch his lost wife. In the maze of grief and longing, the magic of the sea and sand helps Jack to find his way back, not only to physical health, but spirtitual well being.
So,in the final analysis, although it's not Baldacci's best, there is enough compelling here to throw One Summer into the beachbag---and if you happen to doze a little in the summer sun, well, what is a beach read really for anyway?
Beth Moroney, former English teacher and administrator in the Edison Public School District, specialized in teaching Creative Writing and Journalism. Recently Moroney published Significant Anniversaries of Holocaust/Genocide Education and Human/Civil Rights, available through the New Jersey Commission on the Holocaust. A passionate reader, Moroney is known for recommending literature to students, teachers, parents, and the general public for over forty years. Moroney can be contacted at email@example.com.
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