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Key to a Cottage
by Marian Coe
SouthLore Press, 2003
Hardcover, $19.95 (283 pages)
ISBN:  0963334190

Key to a Cottage, in the tradition of The Group and Loose Change, is a novel about women’s life journey and the choices they make.  Themes of spirituality, feminism/sisterhood, parenting and social responsibility run through it. 

During the “Summer of Love,” 17-year-old Rae travels with her parents to a conference in San Francisco.  A stop at Big Sur, introduced the wide-eyed Alabama girl to hippies and Chloe, the woman who becomes her life-long friend.  Chloe leaves her wealthy Boston family to become a flower child and follow her lover Garth, a radical leader preaching revolution.  She provides a calming effect on him, but is physically worn down by the experience. 

Rae returns to Alabama to marry Air Force boyfriend Charley and give up her dream of college.  She tries to make a home on the Florida base, while Charley comes and go on missions.  He crashes in a desert, and Rae finds herself an 18-year-old widow.  Rae returns to Chloe in California for the comfort of this saintly friend.  Unfortunately, a dream of Charley is in reality a rape by Garth.  Rae returns home pregnant and with a secret she can’t share with her dearest friend Chloe. 

Needing to escape Birmingham relatives, Rae takes refuge with her Aunt Vyola in Montgomery.  The cottage has a calming effect on her, and Vyola’s wise guidance helps her focus.  Rae escapes from her pain with work.  She takes a local job with a hotel, which leads to a resort in Florida.  A merger takes Rae to Atlanta and a corporate training program causing her to live on the road.  A need to settle causes her to accept a loveless marriage, which ends after a trip to California awakens Rae’s spiritual needs.  Knowing that she needs to focus on her retirement fund, Rae heads South and becomes a top real estate broker in Ft. Lauderdale.  Once again she meets a successful man, but is this love or do they just look good together?   

Rae returns to Alabama to put her life in order in the cottage her aunt has left to her.  Plus she is left a message from her Aunt Vyola with Rae’s abandoned box of personal papers – “Life has to be lived forward, but is understood in retrospect.”  Rae finds closure during these two months and is able to see clearly to her future. 

The women bonds in Key to a Cottage make it a great choice for book groups.  The timeline of social changes from the ‘60s to late ‘90s, makes it an interesting study of our culture.  

Alabama native Marian Coe is a former feature writer for the St. Petersburg Times.  She lives on Sugar Mountain, North Carolina with her artist husband Paul Zipperlin and winters in Largo, Florida.  An endowed Marian Coe Creative Writing Scholarship serves students at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC.   


Joyce Dixon
Southern Scribe Reviews


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