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 Fiction Review    

 

Isle of Palms: A Lowcountry Tale
By Dorothea Benton Frank
Berkley, 2003
Hardcover, $22.95 (411 pages)
ISBN: 0-425-19136-2

 

 
 

 

In Isle of Palms, Dorothea Benton Frank has infused her characters with spunk and good nature. The reader is easily pulled into the Lowcountry life. From the first words, one is next to hairdresser Anna Lutz Abbot, sipping sweet tea, sitting on the porch swing, and conspiratorially learning about her life and times. And what fascinating, entertaining times they are.  

Arthur, “the man who drives me crazy with the shivers” is just one of Abbot’s pals, brought to life by Frank’s renderings. Frank infuses the story of Abbot’s life with amazing characters and places that seem to leap to life, including even Abbot’s mother who joins the cast as a corpse rolled out on a gurney. The culture and people of the Lowcountry mingle on the pages and throughout Abbot’s life. Very often readers are left without knowing the motivation for their narrator’s life. But in Isle of Palms, Frank hides nothing: from the death of Abbot’s mother (when she was near 11-years old) to her life as a single mother living from her distant father to her Grandmother Violet to her marriage to a homosexual to the knee-weakening Arthur. And that doesn’t even cover the return from college of Emily, her sullen daughter, or the re-appearance of the bad seed, Everett Fairchild.  

In the course of the upheavals and dramas, Abbot has dreamed of getting back to the Isle of Palms. Life on—or close to—the Gullah-speaking island Abbot inhabits (off the coast of South Carolina, near Charleston) seems to set off sparks. The novel reads like your best friend talks—Frank writes like your best friend talks. Even in the book’s Author’s Note, Frank exhibits her understanding and love for the Gullah culture and sets up her reader for wanting more.  

This is Frank’s third Lowcountry tale, after Sullivan’s Island (2000) and Plantation (2001). She is sure to give her readers more, as she comments “I wish I could write faster….” More than anything, Frank’s novel sometimes weakens from the weight of so many characters—or situations. Every once in a while the reader wants the characters to slow down. Or maybe that’s the thirst for sweet tea and a quiet chat on the veranda that is getting the better of this reviewer.

 

Elizabeth King Humphrey
Southern Scribe Reviews
 

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