Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Review: Last Light Over Carolina by Mary Alice Monroe

Shrimping is a hard way of life. It is tough work for less and less payoff these days given the global economy. It is dangerous and messy. Gruelingly physical. But it it the only way of life for so many people in small coastal South Carolina towns. And it is here, in one of these towns that Mary Alice Monroe has set her new book.

Bud Morrison comes from a shrimping family. It is in his blood and is the only thing he's ever had the desire to do. He is a good captain, safe and competent, but like so many others scrambling to make a living, he is deeply in debt. Married to Carolina for 30 plus years, he worries that they'll lose the big, beautiful house she inherited from family if he doesn't have some good runs. And this worry is one of the reasons that drives him out alone on his boat the fateful day chronicled in this novel.

Told in chapters from Bud's point of view, as well as wife Carolina's, we go through the day with the characters, hearing their worries and glimpsing the stresses and fissures in their marriage and in their lives. Each character reminisces about their past together, the mistakes they've made and what has brought them to the pass in which they find themselves now. Despite taking place all in the framework of one day up until the very last chapter, the reader is taken through Bud and Carolina's meeting and instant zinging connection, the early years when so in tune that they shrimped together, the years of escalating stresses about money, the betrayal that they pushed past but never quite managed to leave behind, and the current detente of a chilled marriage.

All of the memories that flood through Bud and Carolina during the day bring them to a greater understanding of what they want out of life and this comprehension becomes the touchstone that pushes them through the crisis they each face when Bud's boat the Miss Carolina is overdue. Carolina knows in her heart something is wrong but she is ignorant of what the reader knows to be going on onboard. And it becomes a race against time to find the boat and Bud before it is too late.

The major side plot here involves Bud and Carolina's grown daughter and her ex-husband. Like her father, Lizzy's ex is a shrimper and although she still cares for him more deeply than she'd like to admit, she doesn't want to live the life she's grown up seeing. But Josh is persistent and as Lizzy goes through the day her father is missing, she comes to some home truths about love and marriage and community. And Josh, as part of that community rallies to find Bud and his boat.

Even though the reader is aware at all times what has happened to make Bud late getting in, the tension in the novel ratchets up every time a new chapter starts an hour or further into the day. Alternating these chapters with Bud and Carolina's flashbacks serves to easily give the reader the back story between the two of them so that both their connection and their reserve with each other is understandable. But the precipitous alternating also made it harder for me to remain fully in the story. I don't know if a strictly linear account would have had the tension Monroe was going for, but it probably would have worked a bit better for me.

Second changes and forgiveness run through the novel thematically, and not just through Bud and Carolina's marriage and Josh's and Lizzy's relationship. It is evident in Bud's willingness to employ his cousin as his striker despite the fact that Pee Dee has been blamed by so many for Bud's younger brother's death. It is evident in Bud's former best friend being willing to allow the fleet to gas up free of charge to search for Bud despite Bud's and his long standing animosity.

But Monroe never suggests that second chances or forgiveness is easy. Her characters suffer and struggle. They are imperfect but through the aegis of this accident, they will come to understand that the powerful love that so consumed them in the early years is still there, waiting under the surface of the communication problems, the financial struggle and stresses, and the day to day mundanities that threaten to weaken a marriage. And that chance for happiness all over again is really the ultimate message of the book. And if the book occasionally felt a little emotionally manipulative, the uniqueness of the setting and the appeal of the characters themselves helped to ameliorate that, making this a page turner right at home on a lazy summer day at the beach.

A big thanks to Sarah at Pocket Books for sending me the book. If you'd like to check out other stops on the tour, a list of participants follows:

All About {n}: www.bookwormygirl.blogspot.com
Bookin’ with “BINGO”: http://bookinwithbingo.blogspot.com/
My Guilty Pleasures: http://www.mgpblog.com/
Just Jennifer Reading: http://www.justjenniferreading.blogspot.com/
Chick With Books: http://www.chickwithbooks.blogspot.com/
Bella’s Novella: http://www.bellasnovella.com/
Books and Needlepoint: http://booksandneedlepoint.blogspot.com/
Booksie’s Blog: http://booksiesblog.blogspot.com/
Beth Fish Reads: http://bfishreads.blogspot.com/
Medieval Bookworm: http://chikune.com/blog/
Living Life and Reading Books: http://ilovelovebooks.blogspot.com/
Book N Around: http://booknaround.blogspot.com/
The Eclectic Book Hoarder: http://eclecticbookhoarder.blogspot.com/
Pick of the Literate: http://bookrevues.blogspot.com/
A Book Bloggers Diary: http://abookbloggersdiary.blogspot.com/
My Friend Amy: http://www.myfriendamysblog.com/
The Tome Traveller’s Weblog: http://thetometraveller.blogspot.com/
Gaijin Mama: http://gaijinmama.wordpress.com/
Blog Business World: http://blogbusinessworld.blogspot.com/
ScarpettaJunkie’s Blog: http://scarpettajunkie.wordpress.com/
Frugal Plus: http://frugalplus.com/
Carolina Gal’s Literary CafĂ©: http://susansliterarycafe.blogspot.com/
This Book For Free: www.thisbookforfree.com
Marta’s Meanderings: http://martasmeanderings.blogspot.com/


  1. That sounds like an interesting book. Thanks for the review.

  2. Hi Kristen. Hope the sun is drying things out for you. Thanks so much for all the contests and keeping up the blog inspite of everything. Just to let you know....

    You've just been awarded the Bookworms's Award for Book Friends. Gloating is permitted.

  3. This sounds like an excellent book. I'll have to check it out at some point.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  4. I loved this book and your review of it!


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