Rebuilding on Sand? I Don't Think So: The Beach Trees
By Ashleigh Burroughs on July 21, 2011
I really tried to like The Beach Trees, Karen White's novel of love and loss. Really, I tried. But, in the end, I found myself racing through the pages, hurrying to finish. Not hurrying to discover the deep mystery at the center of the story, just hurrying to be done with the book.
I don't like to be annoyed when I read. If there are going to be multiple generations represented in the storytelling, feel free to include a genealogy on the frontispiece. I won't be scared off. In this instance, I'd have been eternally grateful, as a matter of fact. I could barely keep the characters straight.
The book employs an ingenious conceit -- the past and the present overlap in almost every way. Ms. White jumps back and forth, from the 1950's to the present day, and in each decade there are characters who make the same mistakes, who encounter the same misfortunes, who ignore the obvious paths and create more secrets. There were lots and lots of secrets... so many secrets I couldn't remember who held which one.
There are loves unrequited and boys unmothered and grandmothers with attitude and generations colliding in each segment of the story and it became so confusing that I found myself stopping in mid-paragraph, reminding myself that Monica was Trey's sister and had nothing to do with Gary and Wes who were separated from them by..... it just went on and on and on and after a while I began to pay attention to the stories alone, and tried to forget how they were tied together.
Hints are dropped heavily as the plot moves forward. The carved beach trees of the title appear whenever the narrator needs an emotional boost; the symbolism is liberally scattered over the pages. In case the family-on-top-of-family layering wasn't an obvious enough representation of the whirlwind nature of this clan's interactions, the epigrams for most chapters are definitions of the pieces of a hurricane. I didn't need to be warned of what was to come before each section; I'm a big girl and I can take the surprise.
The Beach Trees is a treatise about rebuilding on sand. Karen White didn't convince me. I still think it's a foolish idea.
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