The Beach Trees: "All Truths Rise to the Surface Eventually"
By Bridget Magnus on July 18, 2011
Death and loss, they plague you. So do memories.
If I had to describe Karen White's The Beach Trees in two words, those words would be "surviving loss." In these pages you'll find one heirloom painting, one murder mystery, three missing women, and a whole lot of truths nobody wants to face.
Julie Holt arrives in Biloxi with a battered minivan, two suitcases, and custody of her late best friend's 5 year old son. She's come thinking she's heir to a beach house -- which was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
Julie soon meets Aimee Guidry, the boy's great grandmother and current matriarch of the strange but proper New Orleans family Julie's friend left behind at age 18. Aimee and Julie would both like to know why she left -- and what it has to do with a picture of Aimee's mother-in-law painted by Julie's grandfather -- but they will have to figure it out together.
There are two points of view in this novel, clearly labeled for the reader's convenience. Julie tells her story in present day Biloxi and New Orleans, amid wreckage and rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina. Aimee tells her story to Julie as remembrances from the 1950s and 1960s, until Hurricane Camille in 1969.
The trees mentioned in the title are actually along Beach Boulevard in Biloxi. Left dead after Katrina, artists have turned them into lovely sculptures that celebrate life.
I found this a compelling book, and one whose mysteries I wanted to see solved. I am very picky about book endings, and found this one largely satisfying. There is one bone that I have to pick -- not with the author but with the publisher and/or editor. I found the addition of "questions for discussion" in the last few pages to be insulting to my intelligence. I do not like leading questions that attempt to force my thoughts and opinions down a narrow corridor. Let's trust the author to tell her own story, without the assistance of some "freshman lit" essay starters. At least these pages are easily avoided. Perhaps they will be culled from future editions.
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