My mother spent her days drenched in memories of safe arms and sweet music, reading his precious words, faded ink on yellowed stationery. I looked for ghosts around corners, certain I was running out of time to find a way to be enough for her. An inability to live in the present was one thing we had in common. – from Sea Escape, page 1 –
Laura Martinez longs to restore the closeness she once had with her mother, Helen. But Helen seems to live mostly in the past, encased in her beautiful home by the sea, reading long ago love letters from Laura’s father who died many years ago. Helen is remote, cold at times, and critical. It is only Laura’s ten year old son Henry who seems to touch her heart. When Helen suffers from a stroke, Laura finally feels as though she can be of use to her mother, and maybe, just maybe, find a way back to her.
Lynne Griffin’s novel Sea Escape is set on the coast of Massachusetts and introduces readers to two women – Laura and Helen – and their difficult relationship. The book opens on the day of Helen’s stroke, then winds it way backwards through flashbacks to Helen’s earlier life as a young woman who turns to sewing beautiful fabrics together in order to create her dream home. Slowly, Griffin begins to uncover the essence of who Helen is and how her marriage to Joseph, a journalist who is away more than at home, helped shape her. Griffin alternates between Helen’s story from the past and Laura’s memories of her childhood, to bring the story full circle.
Neither woman is particularly likable at the beginning of the novel, especially Helen who is seen initially only through Laura’s eyes. But, with the flashbacks told in Helen’s point of view, the reader begins to understand the barriers Helen has erected which are fueled by her unresolved grief. Likewise, Laura’s desire to be perfect – running herself into the ground to be the best wife, mother, and daughter – starts to make sense. As Helen lays in a hospital bed, Laura begins to read her father’s letters – letters which hold the key to her parent’s marriage and secrets long buried. By uncovering her parent’s history together, Laura begins to put her own life and needs into perspective.
Walking toward the jetty, I tried not to remember when it was I’d turned to holding on to strangers’ newborn babies or walking nearby coastlines for strength. Unlike the ornamental grass that lined the path to the beach, planted near the seashore because of its ability to bend on the constancy of the wind, I felt as if I were about to break. – from Sea Escape, page 183 –
Sea Escape is the type of book that delves deeply into the lives of women – their challenges, desires, fears, and relationships. It is also a book about mothers and daughters and the ambivalence that often develops between them. Finally, this novel deals with long term grief and the difficult road to recovery.
I mostly enjoyed this book, especially the parts told from Helen’s perspective as she grows from a young girl into a married woman during the 1960s and 1970s when America was embroiled in the Vietnam War. It is Helen’s story that anchors the book.
It took me awhile to develop empathy for both Laura and Helen – women who I didn’t understand until I was well into the story. At first I felt this to be a weakness of the writing, but later came to appreciate how Griffin reveals the danger of pre-judging someone before we know their history. It is easy to label a person cold, bitchy or uncaring based on their outward behavior, but only when we learn their life experiences can we grow to see why they might behave as they do. And it is through that process that empathy develops.
Sea Escape is a good summertime read for those who like women’s fiction set in New England.
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**FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog through TLC Book Tours.