Folly Beach by Dorothea Benton Frank is the story of Cate, who once had it all and through a hailstorm of tragedies, finds herself single, homeless and broke. She makes the trip from New Jersey to South Carolina and is taken in by her aunts who raised her. It is here that she starts over, builds and new life, and is deeply inspired by the playwrights Dorothy and DuBose Heyward (of Porgy and Bess fame).
Let me break this all down for you. First of all, the story starts off with Cate living in the lap of luxury in Jersey. She is richer than rich — mansion and private jet rich — because of her husband’s work. She does not work, and instead complains about how unfulfilled her life is. Herumph. As someone living at the other end of the wealth spectrum, I found the complaining less-than-adorable. Then, when she lost it all and had to adapt to a life where — GASP — there was no one to cook and clean for her and she couldn’t get her hair blown out three times a week in the salon? Yeah, I still wasn’t feeling too sorry for the lady.
BUT, at this point, the story was already moving along nicely, and I barely noticed it took more than 70 pages for her to get to the “starting life over” point, which was actually the beginning of the real story.
My only other complaint is that every chapter of Cate’s story is alternated with a scene from a play about Dorothy Heyworth. We later learn that this is the play Cate is inspired to write, and that’s lovely, but the play takes you right out of the moment, and is really not necessary to the story at all. There are some interesting tidbits here and there about the lives of the Heywards and their collaboration with George Gershwin, but nothing that couldn’t have been included in the context of the novel, as many other details were.
Again, however, I was able to overlook this writing device that I find particularly lame because I quickly became interested in the characters. Plus, there is a new romance blooming.
And this is why I devoted so much of this review to the parts of the story that really bothered me — because a book that had two things that frustrated and annoyed me was still able to keep my interest, make me laugh, and make me think. The 350+ pages moved quickly, and neither the plot or dialogue ever seemed forced. I found much to love in Frank’s characters and the character of Folly Beach itself. Frank’s research into the Charleston Renaissance, the Heywards and Gershwin was also commendable. All in all, Folly Beach was a fun and interesting read.