The Bookshop at Water’s End
by Patti Callahan Henry
Patti Callahan Henry reports that she normally has no idea of a setting’s source, yet she knew exactly the background required by
her characters Bonny Moreland Blankenship, Lainey Greer McKay, and Piper Blankenship. Recalling the summers she spent with her husband and children on the May River in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, Henry “offered them a summer home in Watersend, South Carolina, that echoed their life destinies, conflicts, secrets, and tragedies.”
Bonny’s parents, in 1976, had purchased a summer cottage in Watersend and invited Bob and Clara Greer and their children Owen and Lainey to visit. By summer’s end, Bonny and Lainey had declared themselves Summer Sisters and promised “that [they’d] be there for each other through anything.” In the years since, both have become successful in their careers.
Bonny’s dedication and emergency room competence earned her tribute as “one of the best doctors” at Charleston’s Medical University of South Carolina. At home, where her “Christmas card family” is disintegrating, Bonny wonders if she’s more fearful of change or that change may never come. The Lucas she loved when they married twenty-two years earlier has mutated into a tyrant obsessed with “money and image.” A prominent lawyer, Lucas demanded a stay-at-home wife to lavishly entertain his peers in a showplace house and to groom Piper, their daughter, for a future befitting his status. Little does Lucas suspect that Bonny has made arrangements to begin a new life.
Then, in the midst of emergency room chaos, Bonny makes a mistake that may have killed a patient. She calls Lainey who tells her to “go home,” meaning the cottage in Watersend. Bonny replies, “Lainey, I won’t go without you.”
A celebrated mixed-media artist, Lainey lives in California with her husband Tim and their young children, Daisy and George. Lainey obsesses about finding Clara, her mother, “because there is still a gaping hole where a mom should be.”
From a beautiful and elegant woman, Clara, addicted to alcohol and Valium, disintegrated into a derelict whose drunken recklessness, in 1978, almost killed Lainey and Owen. After she disappeared that night, everyone but Lainey assumed that Clara had drowned herself in the ocean.
Lainey searched for her mother until at Tim’s insistence, she promised to stop. Hoping that time in Watersend will allay her obsession, Lainey and her children join Bonny.
Bonny sends Piper, age 19, ahead to prepare the house and then babysit Daisy and George during the summer. Not exactly the summer Piper envisioned, but then Piper doesn’t know what she envisions. Piper considers herself “never enough, especially since Ryan, her boyfriend, left to backpack across Europe with someone else. Though she loathes herself even more, Piper seeks answers from her ever-handy bottle of Jim Beam and pot. Her reverie on hangovers opening Chapter 25—“All drunken nights were different, but all hangovers felt the same”—is worthy of inclusion in AA literature. And now she’s stranded in “Nowhere, South Carolina,” in a stupid house named Se La Vie and about to be shackled with two children who, for all she knows, are spoiled, screaming brats.
To Piper’s delight and surprise, they “. . . settle into a natural rhythm.” Charmed by Daisy and George, she enjoys taking them to the beach or the river fishing and reading bedtime stories. Bonny and Lainey resume their Summer Sisters’ relationship, but Piper notices that “there was just as much unsaid as there was said” about Owen, Lainey’s brother and the story’s main conflict.
Owen and Bonny fell in love during their first Watersend summer, so Bonny assumed they would marry. Instead, she waited as Owen “came and went, came and went” until she married Lucas at age 27. Owen appeared the night before their wedding and asked her to wait just a bit longer. They have not seen each other since, but have continued their relationship long distance.
Never expecting to be the deserted woman when Bonny married someone else, Lainey, rightfully so, resents being excluded from their sharing. Owen has responded to her emails and calls at his convenience, sometimes months or years later. Desperately needing the only remaining member of her family, Lainey intends to confront Bonny. Owen too, if he ever bothers to contact her again.
Henry could not have chosen a better setting for Bonny, Lainey, and Piper as they confront their conflicts. Despite their apprehensions about the house, all three women eventually admit that they are glad they “came home.”
Also, Mimi is still in her Tidal Wave bookshop. Though she appears in the story relatively little, opening the Prologue deems her the voice of reason throughout. As Bonny and Lainey sort through their conflicts, personal and mutual, Mimi’s loyalty and common sense provide a solid foundation. Mimi senses great potential in Piper and longs to point out that Ryan’s incessant criticism is noxious to her self-perception. Instead, as she did with Bonny and Lainey, Mimi firmly but gently presents other possibilities.
Since Henry tells her story from the viewpoints of Bonny, Lainey, and Piper in alternating chapters, readers glean an overall perspective. Mimi enhances their perception with observations about the tidal river flowing by Bonny’s house. Mimi firmly believes that the rich estuary brought these people of the past here at the same time, just as divine timing brings the tide in and then draws it out . . .
Readers will question how Mimi, as the voice of reason, can promote “nature’s magic,” an obvious paradox. For Bonny,
Lainey, and Piper, thanks to Mimi’s wisdom, the paradox offers comfort as the circumstances of their conflicts flow and ebb, especially when another tragedy looms.
Patti Callahan Henry grew up in Philadelphia, the daughter of an Irish minister and moved south with her family when she was 12 years old. She graduated from Auburn University with a degree in nursing and from Georgia State with a Master’s degree in Child Health. She left pediatric nursing to raise her first child, Meagan. Not long after having her third child, she began writing down the stories that had always been in her head. Not until Meagan, then six, said that she wanted “to be a writer of books” did Henry realize that writing was her own dream as well.
A New York Times’ bestselling author, she has published eleven novels. Hailed as a fresh new voice in Southern fiction, Henry has been short-listed for the Townsend Prize for Fiction and nominated four times for the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Novel of the Year.
View From My Catio
(Tuedo Cat Par Excellence)
Greetings Friends and Fans:
Mary is shrieking again. After all the badgering, bitching, beleaguering, bellyaching, battling, bemoaning, belittling, bullshitting, bickering, bellowing, bashing, ballyhooing, babbling, and balderdashing about Hillary leaking classified information, rumpy-trump released top secret security information to the Russian ambassador. Even more scary, is that he did so with the same nonchalance as if he were handing out his “Make America Great” caps.
Then, during a phone chat with the president of the Philippines, rumpy-trump, in his signature POTUS prattle, announced, in reference to North Korea, “We have a lot of firepower over there. We have two submarines–-the best in all the world —we have two nuclear submarines—not that we want to use them at all. I’ve never seen anything like they are but we don’t have to use this but he could be crazy so we will see what happens” (1).
I strongly advised Mary to just cool it. Remember those big honker ships that rumpy-trump said he sent to North Korea to scare Short Stuff? Remember how he never bothered to confirm his information, and they sailed approximately 3,500 miles in the other direction? Therefore, what makes rumpy-trump think that the submarines aren’t snug in their home port?
However, in the event that submarines really are off the coast of North Korea, I advise Pentagon officials to: 1) shut up about military maneuvers, especially where submarines are concerned since stealth, an attribute absolutely foreign to rumpy-trump, is crucial, or 2) pick a point 3,500 miles in the direction of their choice and relay that as the destination. Rumpy-trump will never know the difference, which bodes well for world peace for a while longer, I hope.
Purrs and Cream,