The Beach Trees is Saturated With Intrigue
Karen White's The Beach Trees is a winding, lavish story about family secrets and searching for answers. It is not the sort of book I would normally finish. I would normally take one glance at the yuppie, Southern family of characters, the overly flowery descriptions inherent in White's writing and cringe. I would digest about a chapter of The Beach Trees' saccharine, dripping with conventionality, upper class overtones complete with pressed blouses and wide brimmed gardening hats, and I would put a book like this down and step away.
Karen White's style is very embellished. She takes her time and uses excessive language to describe everything, from the scenery, to the way a character enjoyed a meal with relish, to a lingering smile on the lips of a lover. Every time someone eats a meal, which happens a lot in this story, they dine on something stereotypically "New Orleans". White takes great pains to describe the sensations of biting into dishes like red beans and rice, muffaletta sandwiches, seafood gumbo, beignets, po-boys and pimento cheese. I'm sure she was only trying to enhance the lush, southern feel of the setting, but all she actually accomplished was interrupting the flow of the story by sounding cliché. As a reader, I felt like I was being forced to wade through a lot of time wasting filler and overworked platitudes in order to get to the content of the story.
However, once I got to the meat of the story, I actually enjoyed it. Half of the story is told from Julie Holt's perspective, in modern day New Orleans. She has been through many trials in her life, including the disappearance of her sister and the recent death of a friend. With the help of her dead friend’s family, she works through her troubled ideas about interpersonal connection, family bonds, love, and what it means to truly feel at home. These are all very "chick-lit" influenced themes, and in keeping with my feelings about stories of middle aged women finding themselves, I wasn't blown away by the sections of the book narrated by Julie. Karen White did a wonderful job of weaving mystery into Julie's story, however, and although I rolled my eyes at a lot of Julie Holt's thoughts and actions, I was invested in finding out the answers to her questions.
The alternating half of the story is told by Aimee Guidry, the beautiful and gentile matron of the Guidry family. She tells the story of her life, as a young person, how she fell in love, got married and mourned the loss of a few people very dear to her, all while living under a veil of secrets and strange happenings. Her parts of the story were entirely charming and engrossing. I found myself looking forward to getting a chance to pick up The Beach Trees to get lost in Aimee's narrative. The story of Aimee's life is pregnant and absolutely pulsating with intrigue and romance.
If you asked me how much I liked this book, I might tell you I didn't care for Karen White's writing style or voice. I found the characters to be practical caricatures, and the actual writing to be overly embellished and ornamented to a point of weighty saturation. However, I could also choose to tell you that I found the story to be riveting, in spite of myself and my notions about this type of novel. I honestly looked forward to picking up The Beach Trees each day, and finding out what was going to happen next. Who killed Aimee’s mother? Where was Julie's missing sister? Where had Mrs. Guidry disappeared to? Why did Monica leave her family without explanation? Most importantly, how do the histories of Julie's family and the Guidry family intersect, in the end? If you can stomach a little sugar and a little fluff, The Beach Trees is worth reading to find out the secrets hidden behind these mysteries and more.