Sunday, July 29, 2012

SEA CHANGE by Karen White

Paperback, 416 pages
Published June 5th 2012 by NAL Trade 
Genre: romantic suspense novel, mystery, women's fiction
Rating: 5 stars plus

After a whirlwind romance with child psychologist Matthew Frazier,  newly-wed Ava Whalen, thirty-five years old midwife from Antioch, moves in her husband’s ancestral home on the lovely St. Simons Island off the coast of Georgia. While trying to adjust to the new environment  and to her new life as a married woman, she stumbles across secrets and ghosts that have deep roots in the past (about a century) and grave repercussions in the present. Not only she finds out that her husband has been previously married to another midwife, that he is a widower and that his former wife’s family believes him to be somehow responsible for their daughter’s  accidental death.   She also experiences a strong and inexplicable sense of connection with her husband’s family history and first wife Adrienne.
Matthew’s attempts to conceal and destroy  every remaining trace of Adrienne from their home, fuel Ava’s suspicions , but it will be Matthew himself, despite his  reluctancy and secretive attitude, to ultimately  enable  Ava to fulfill her destiny. With his help she will unveil her elusive past and  unlock the secrets that link her  to Matthew’s ancestor  Pamela Frazier, a midwife who fell victim of her jealous sister’s schemes and died tragically, leaving behind her beloved husband, Geoffry Frazier, and their son.

Sea Change is one of the best books I have read in years. It warmed my heart and tugged at all the emotional strings that a piece of literary fiction can possibly tug at. So good I didn't want it to end. Narrated from three different points of view (Ava’s, her mother’s Gloria, and Pamela’s), this engrossing tale of love ‘lost and regained’  unfolds on multiple chronological shifts between 2011 and 1812. Despite the multi-layered narrative style, I never felt thrown off-balance: the switches between narrating voices and the swaying of their memories felt natural like the gentle rolling of the sea waves...the sea, ever silent protagonist and backdrop of the Frazier family’s tragedies.
Karen White’s writing style has a distinctive lyrical quality. I utterly enjoyed the Southern setting with all the charm of an island with a strong historical identity. White’s rich prose and detailed descriptions are very powerful and evocative: the vivid descriptions of Matthew’s ancestral home, the island’s unique flora, the cemetery, the lighthouse, create a solid bridge  between written words and  visual images.
This heart-pounding mystery provided a very insightful analysis of family dynamics ( the delicate bond and trust issues between  newly-wed husband and wife, the complexity of a mother-daughter conflictual love, jealousy and antagonism between sisters) and for their depth and poignancy they appealed to me and got me misty-eyed even more than the paranormal twist of the storyline.
Of all the characters, the one that troubled me the most is Ava’s husband, Matthew. It felt to me like he was the weakest link in the story, although he turns out to be the one who holds the keys (literally and figuratively) of the secret doors that our characters will need to open, in order to shed light on the past and be able to move on. I cannot quite understand why he goes to such lengths to hide the real motivations behind his secretive behavior, when he could have and should have been open with Ava from the start.  My guess is that the author used this character and his lack of transparency mainly to enhance the suspense element of the story. Some of his choices remain questionable for me, questionable and forgivable like many human behaviours are when love is at stake and we are not willing to take chances.  What he demands of his wife is a huge leap of faith and luckily for him, Ava is a great character, with a heart twice the size of Georgia and the guts of somebody who’s willing to take chances for the sake of what she loves the most. As for Gloria, Ava’s mother’s, her inner conflicts touched the cords of my heart…as a mother I cannot but understand and sympathize with her.
Despite the very imaginative foundation of this book (karma and reincarnation themes), the storyline is very fetching and the suspension-of-disbelief not difficult to reach at all: emotions and feelings are so well rendered that the entire narration wrenched my heart and swept me off my feet.  Love for her husband and son is what brings Pamela to death and what will bring her back in Ava’s life a century later. Love is what brings Gloria and Matthew to hide some truths in order to protect Ava. In the end, love seems to be the great motivator, the engine behind questionable, courageous, and fateful decisions, able to cheat death and defy time in an endless alternation of ends and beginnings.

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