The Beach Trees: Rich in Atmosphere, Poor in Mystery
I crave beignets, po’boys, and gumbo. I long for a jaunt in a kayak, exploring the Gulf Coast in search of dolphins, black skimmers, and ibises. I imagine the trinkets tossed my way during a Mardi Gras parade, all due to Karen White's novel The Beach Trees.
Set along the Gulf Coast in New Orleans, Louisiana and Biloxi, Mississippi, and spanning three generations,The Beach Trees is a tale of mystery, love, healing, and rebuilding. Julie Holt, a young New Yorker, has spent much of her life focused on one goal: the pursuit of answers in her sister’s disappearance seventeen years ago. Now, she has been given custody of Beau, the 5-year-old son of her dear friend Monica Guidry, who recently lost her battle with a life-long heart condition. From Monica, Julie also inherits River Song, a beach house in Biloxi. Packing up their belongings, Julie and Beau make the journey south, and gradually uncover the mysteries and intrigues of the Guidry family.
As a tale of mystery, the story is flawed. Much of Julie’s insights into the Guidry family come from Aimee, the family matriarch, as she recalls events from the 1950s and 1960s. However, Aimee’s story comes haltingly, in bits and pieces. While this style serves to draw out the suspense of the novel, it is unnatural and unrealistic, serving as a distraction to the reader.
As a tale of love, the story is predictable, yet heartwarming. The reader encounters multiple relationships over many decades. Some are successful and endearing, others are unhealthy and disruptive. The relationships between lovers, friends, parents, and children are believable and sincere, and are certainly one of the redeeming qualities of this story.
As a tale of healing and rebuilding, the novel excels as Karen White successfully weaves the themes of loss and resilience into the story. The characters each face their own internal turmoil as they deal with the loss of loved ones. Meanwhile, the entire Gulf Coast is still struggling to recover from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.
Although the story may be flawed in some ways, the true pleasure from reading this novel is found in White’s ability to describe, in great detail, life on the Gulf Coast. Having never been to the area myself, I now imagine myself wandering the streets of New Orleans, seeing the historic homes of the Garden District, and window shopping through multiple art galleries. In fact, perhaps it’s time to loosen my belt and head to New Orleans for a few beignets.