By: Karen White
Publisher: NAL Trade
Publication Date: June 2012
Reviewed by: Holly Weiss
Review Date: May 29, 2012
In the Prologue of Sea Change, set in 1804, we meet Pamela Frazier, wife of Geoffrey. She is a midwife who lost two of her own babies. Walking the beach of her St. Simons, Georgia home, she finds a ring engraved with a single word, “forever.” She takes the ring home, the golden circle reminding her that beginnings and endings are connected and that “…sometimes it is impossible to distinguish between the two.”
Lonely midwife Ava Whalen meets psychologist Matthew Frazier at a 2011 conference. They elope and he whisks her off to his ancestral home on St. Simons Island off the coast of Georgia. Life here is difficult for thirty-five year old Ada. She has a deep-seated fear of the water. Her new husband and his Revolutionary War era home seem to be hiding secrets from her. Refusing to close the book on her husband’s past, Ada plunges into the mystery, finding herself an integral part of its unraveling.
Ava’s relationship with her family has always been precarious. She believes that making a life with Matthew will bring her what she always lacked—a sense of belonging. He constantly tells her that he loves her, but in Daphne du Maurier style the presence of his first wife, Adrienne, eerily hovers over their relationship. Ada finds Adrienne’s drawings in the house and her dress in Matthew’s closet. Only after Matthew turns a shuttered shack holding Adrienne’s art supplies into a potting shed for Ava’s garden does she begin to trust him.
Ada’s confusion worsens. In her search to solve the puzzles of the island’s past, she finds unexplainable epitaphs on gravestones. She sees visions of Pamela’s husband, Geoffrey. Her nightmares of drowning persist. Psychologist husband Matthew offers to hypnotize her. In the trance, Eva sees memories she thought belonged to someone else, but now understands are her own.
A tensely spun mystery, the book is written in the first person from the alternating viewpoints of present day Ada, her mother Gloria, and early nineteenth century Pamela. Mimi, Ada’s wise ninety-one-year-old grandmother is a sensitively written character who gushes words of insight. “…Some endings are really beginnings.” Although Ada’s fear of the water and sense of foreboding permeate the book, Pamela emerges as the mesmerizing character, dominating the reader’s imagination. The book explores themes of karma, reincarnation, mother/daughter relationships, birth, and death.
Shrouded in mystique, illuminated by enchanting description, and peopled with unforgettable characters, Sea Change is beautifully nuanced. Ghosts lurk everywhere on the ethereal St. Simons Island. The unexpected twists and many layers of mystery will transport you to an enigmatic world. St. Simons Island itself becomes a character; as do a backyard shack, a wedding ring, and a makeshift graveyard. The connection between the midwives of the eighteenth and twenty-first century is slowly unraveled. Does Ava ever solve the puzzle? Like the 200 year-old oak trees that tower knowingly over the St. Simons cemetery, Ms. White masterfully detangles the secrets from long ago and spans the bridge from Ava’s past to her present. Along the way she explores the tenacious, heart-wrenching hold we have over love and relationships.
Quill says: Savor the mystique of St. Simon’s Island, its secrets and its inhabitants with the haunting, beautifully rendered Sea Change.