Let’s talk about beach books. Sarasota is, after all, the perfect town in which to read one. Most visitors bring along a bestseller or two, and getting lost in a story that’s fun and entertaining is an important part of the vacation experience. You have a special dispensation to read the guilty pleasures of the literary world: the thrillers, the celebrity biographies, even those novels for women readers that seem to clog the bookshelves in the airport gift shops.
In fact, let’s start with “women’s fiction.” Unless you’re an aficionado you probably don’t know much about it, other than the fact that it’s an enormous business, and that certain names, such as Nora Roberts, seem vaguely familiar. Roberts has written hundreds of books and is credited with revitalizing the genre with heroines who are smart, sassy and not ashamed to admit they like sex. Her latest book, “Whiskey Beach,” is a perfect example.
The plot is as old as time. A lawyer named Eli Landon retreats to his childhood home, an old mansion called Bluff House in a seaside town just north of Boston, to lick his wounds after being accused of the still-unsolved murder of his wife. There he meets our heroine, Abra Walsh, a yoga instructor who drops by to clean and cook for him. There is an immediate attraction, helped along by a thickening plot that reminded me of a Nancy Drew mystery. Who is digging that hole in the mansion’s basement? Does it have something to do with Esmeralda’s dowry, a long-lost pirate treasure? Why is that private eye snooping around? Who pushed Eli’s grandmother down the stairs? And, most importantly, will Abra teach Eli to love again? (No prizes for guessing the answer to that one.)
This being a novel aimed at women, the twists and turns of the plot are much less important than that of the developing relation between Eli and Abra, and it is here that Nora hits her stride and shows us how she’s made her millions. That she understands women goes without saying, but it’s her knowledge of the male mind (she has, according to biographical material, five brothers and two sons) that really makes the book work. It’s not that men are weak, but they must be led. They must be taught to appreciate good food and flowers, to express their feelings, to adopt rescue dogs, to meditate and, perhaps most crucial of all, to “hydrate” after they run. So, it will come as no surprise that the real climax of “Whiskey Beach” is not the resolution of the complicated mystery but rather the moment when Abra finally gets Eli to admit, out loud, that he loves her.
Social issues, satire and beautiful writing interest Roberts not a whit. Her turf is the female mind. And, though at times I found Abra a bit much — in addition to her yoga studio, she makes jewelry, reads tarot cards, does a little party planning and is getting into Zumba — she grows on you. Spending time with her is like dipping into the pool at your vacation condo. It’s calm and relaxing, the perfect thing to do on a hot afternoon.
Just remember to hydrate afterward.
“Whiskey Beach” is available at Bookstore1Sarasota, 1359 Main St. Call 365-7900.
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