Sea Escape – Book Review

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.

Read a guest post by the author and enter to win a copy of this book as well as the author’s debut novel.

Read other reviews of this book by visiting the TLC Book Tour site.

**FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog through TLC Book Tours.

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  1. Thank you for this review . This book sounds really good. I love the cover as well. Unfortunately the giveaway is restricted!!!!

    • Serena on July 13, 2010 at 04:22

    This sounds like an excellent book. I wonder if there is enough about the Vietnam War for us to add it to the list for the latest War Through the Generations reading challenge. What do you think? Is it prevalent enough in the story?

  2. I love stories that explore women’s relationships, so this sounds good to me. It also sounds like a reminder that we never know how other people got to where they are in their lives.

    • Kay on July 13, 2010 at 05:25

    I’m seeing lots of good comments about this book all over. I’m attracted to the letters that are included in the storyline. I love epistolary books and though I know this one isn’t one of those, I’m still intrigued. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I thought the author’s last book, her debut: Life Without Summer: A Novel was wonderful. Your review has helped pique my interest. I think I’ll pick this up and try to squeeze it in before my last beach reading day this summer…

  4. I read this book for the tour also, and really liked it. The one thing that bothered me a little was the way that Laura treated her husband sometimes. It took me quite awhile to actually like her because of that. In the end, I did end up liking her…it was just a sometimes rocky road. Great review! I am so glad that you liked the book!

    • Staci on July 13, 2010 at 07:09

    You summed it up perfectly…we never really know what has happened to shape the person. Sounds like a good read.

  5. One of my few regrets about my work is that I didn’t include more grandparent-aged characters. They add a special kind of music.

  6. I have an ARC of this and almost brought it with me on my trip to CA, but decided to hold off until we head to VA next week. This trip is going to be to hectic. I’m not even reading on my flight thanks to WiFi! Great time to catch up on my blog-hopping! Any how, I enjoyed your review and will remember to hold back on my criticism for the women. 😉

    • Wendy on July 17, 2010 at 20:22

    Mystica: I’m sorry the giveaway is restricted…since the publisher is sending out the books, I don’t have any say in that 🙁 BUT, when I mail books myself, I almost always try to do it Internationally!!

    Serena: Hmmmm, re: the Vietnam element…the father is away a lot because he is a journalist there, but the story is all told from the women’s perspectives back at home, and there is not a ton relating to Vietnam.

    Kathy: I liked that element in the story – about how things can be happening in peoples’ lives which we know nothing about…so we should try not to be too harsh in our judgments.

    Kay: The letters play a HUGE part in the book … and they are offered in full to the reader…so I think you would like this book 🙂

    A Books Blog: I haven’t yet read the author’s first book, so thanks for the recommendation!

    Zibilee: I agree – Laura was not terribly kind to her husband (but then as we got to know her background, I think it helped to understand her a bit more).

    Staci: Thanks!

    Shelley: I like books with grandparents in them…

    Les: I’ll be interested to read your thoughts on the book when you get around to reading it. Hope your trip to VA was wonderful!

    • Serena on July 18, 2010 at 06:25

    Ok, sounds like there isn’t enough for the Vietnam War challenge then. Thanks.

    • Wendy on July 26, 2010 at 06:52

    Serena: No I don’t think so….

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