September 18, 2011

Sea Escape

Sea Escape by Lynne Griffin
2010 Simon & Schuster
Finished 8/10/11
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher’s Blurb:

Acclaimed novelist and nationally recognized family expert Lynne Griffin returns with Sea Escape—an emotional, beautifully imagined story inspired by the author’s family letters about the ties that bind mothers and daughters.

Laura Martinez is wedged in the middle place, grappling with her busy life as a nurse, wife, and devoted mom to Henry and Claire, when her estranged mother, Helen, suffers a devastating stroke. In a desperate attempt to lure her mother into choosing life, Laura goes to Sea Escape, the pristine beach home that Helen took refuge in when her carefully crafted life unraveled years ago, after the death of her beloved husband, Joseph. There, Laura hunts for the legendary love letters her husband wrote to her mother when he served as a reporter for the Associated Press during wartime Vietnam. Believing the beauty and sway of her father’s words will have the power to heal, Laura reads the letters bedside to her mother—a woman who once spoke the language of fabric; of Peony Sky in Jade and Paradise Garden Sage—but who can’t or won’t speak to her now. As Laura delves deeper into her tangled family history, each letter revealing patchwork details of her parents’ marriage, she finds a common thread—a secret, mother and daughter unknowingly share.

No marked passages to share and until just now, as I typed up the publisher’s blurb, I’d almost forgotten not only the secret, but several major plot points of this novel. While I was entertained as I read the book, something was missing and I wasn’t as drawn into the characters’ lives as I have been with similar familial stories by Anna Quindlen, Lisa Genova, Marisa de los Santos, and Erica Bauermeister. Earning a fairly high rating on Amazon (4.5/5 stars and yet, only 16 reviews in all), I thought I was in the minority, but Publishers Weekly hits the nail on the head:

Though most of the right women's fiction boxes are checked, this suffers greatly from characters who don't feel particularly real and plot complications that thud into place without adding tension.

However, Bellezza felt otherwise:

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, which revealed layer upon layer of emotion as well as secrecy. I love how it explored mother/daughter relationships, mother/child relationships, and husband/wife relationships. I love the way that Laura came to terms with her life at the novel's conclusion.
(Bellezza, of Dolce Bellezza)

Go here to read Bellezza's complete review.

Wendy’s opinion falls somewhere in between:

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. (Wendy, of Caribousmom)

Wendy's review can be found here.

I haven’t read Griffin’s debut novel, Life Without Summer, but it earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly, so I won’t be hasty to dismiss this author. Everyone deserves a second chance.


  1. Sounds like you had the same issue with this book as I did - characters who didn't invite you as readily into their lives. Ultimately, I grew to appreciate them, but it took some time.

  2. I really liked how you added several different opinions about this book within your review. I'm sure this is one that I would like but I really need to get something from the characters!

  3. I think it's those 'boxes' that put me off so much of this kind of writing. Cheating√ Illness√ Secrets√ Women bonding√ - it all seems overwrought and unreal to me. Some books that may fit into the category I just love, but not most. It's a thin line between the ones I like and those I don't. I can't even put words to why. For example, I loved The Arrivals and couldn't stand Maine. Well done review.

  4. Now that I think about it, and some time has lapsed since I read this book, I'm surprised I gave such a glowing review. At this point? I'm far more inclined to agree with you than what I originally wrote. Perhaps I was in a reading slump and this seemed a shining star? Not quite sure...

  5. Hi Les, I read this one last year when it was first released. My thoughts and rating were about the same as yours. I enjoyed her first novel more.

  6. Wendy - While I still remember quite a bit about this novel, I suspect it will be all but forgotten in another year. I hope her previous book wins me over.

    Staci - I agree. I don't have to love all (or even most) of the characters, but I do need to feel something for at least one of them.

    Nan - Thanks, my dear. I finished The Arrivals a few days ago and I LOVED it!!! I wonder if I'll feel the same about Maine. I'm going to give it a try.

    Bellezza - Funny how some time and distance from a book can change one's mind about the overall reading experience. I've gone from loving books to thinking they were only just ok. And I've also decided that some books were much better than I originally thought. I have a fickle memory!

    Diane - Hmm, guess I'm not in the minority. I'm looking forward to her debut novel even more now!

  7. This one never even called my name. "Good" is good. At least it wasn't a DNF! :)

  8. Joy - Too many books, too little time. I'd say skip it.


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