Saturday, October 31, 2015

Review: Ferris Beach by Jill McCorkle

Have you ever had a book sit unread on your shelf for years and years and years for no good reason at all? If you saw my basement to be read shelves, you'd know that this is not an unusual thing for me. But when the publisher reissues it twenty years after you first bought it, sends you a new advanced copy, and you still don't get to it, that's a bit excessive. And yet, even then I didn't pick it right up, waiting through a friend's occasional gushing references and having read and enjoyed other newer books by the author for another 5 years or so. But for every book there is a season, right? And I've finally gotten to this one's. Jill McCorkle's Ferris Beach may be twenty-five years old but it easily holds up to a reading today.

Mary Katherine Burns is nine when split level homes are built across the street from her own historically significant house. Katie is an only child and generally alone so she is thrilled to discover that a girl her own age is moving in across the street. Misty and her glamorous, unconventional mother Mo are a whole different breed of people from Katie and her mother Cleva. As Katie and Misty become best friends, Katie is drawn into the intriguing life she sees being lived across from her. The only outrageous and unusual thing in her own life is Cousin Angela, the cousin who wafts in and out of the Burns' lives, disapproved of by Cleva and sometimes secretly, sometimes publicly abetted by Katie's beloved father Fred. Katie is a watchful girl and as she grows, she learns to see that the facade we present to others is just that, a facade. Her greatest desire is a more glamorous life but when something big and irreversible happens one July 4th, she sees beyond her childish romanticized view of others' lives to the turmoil and unhappiness beneath. It is a lesson she won't forget as she continues to see snatches of bald realism that alter the superficial view, especially with Merle, the boy who once tormented her, and Perry, the beautiful, victimized girl who was to marry Merle's brother.

Katie is awkward and embarrassed as only a shy girl can be. Her world is safe and circumscribed but it cannot stay that way, because life is not safe and circumscribed. Secrets have a way of being exposed, surfacing unwelcomed and unwanted; truth and honesty win out. McCorkle does the small moments, the everyday, interrupted by unusual upheaval so well. She beautifully captures the minutia that makes up our days. But she also captures the ruptures and chasms that spin us around to face another way entirely. Her characters are people we all know. The 1970s small Southern town setting is exquisitely rendered and her characters are true to the time period in both their reactions and beliefs. The malapropisms in one character's speech are hilarious, adding some poignancy but also levity to a story filled with the small and large tragedies of regular life. The pacing is slow, deliberate, and contemplative. It is a coming of age story paced at life's own measure. Like an exquisitely rendered miniature rather than a huge sweeping canvas, attention to detail is everything here. Ferris Beach is definitely more for people who enjoy and appreciate character driven stories than those who want a cracking, fast-paced plot to follow.

1 comment:

  1. Yayayay! I'm so glad you finally read it and so glad to read a thoroughly positive review! I'm also so glad to hear it stands the test of time because I was 17 when I read it and as much as I loved it, I've been afraid to revisit it. But maybe now I will reread!


I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

Popular Posts