Married just out of high school, Henry and Effie are on their honeymoon. Staying in Effie’s Uncle George’s beach house in Cape May, New Jersey, at first it feels like they have the whole town to themselves. It’s the end of summer in 1957, and Effie had only ever been there in the summer, so she didn’t understand how empty it was during the off-season, when the beaches are barren and the houses are all dark.
After several days of isolation in Cape May, Effie and Henry start talking about maybe going home early. But then, they see lights on at the big house down the street. They decide to stop by to say hello, and Effie is shocked to come face to face with Clara, who she knew as a child but never particularly liked. But an invitation to dinner and plenty of alcohol weaken Effie’s desire to get away, and the newlyweds stay for what turns into a party.
Effie and Henry get caught up in Clara and her boyfriend Max’s lifestyle, one where wealth and ennui and alcohol fill their days and nights. As the younger couple, all full of small-town Georgia innocence, get pulled deeper and deeper into the swirling eddy that is Clara’s life, they find themselves questioning their judgment, their morals, and even their new marriage.
Chip Creek’s novel of virtue and vice, of reckless youth and responsibility, is both a reminder of the wide-eyed purity we all embraced at one point and a celebration of the temptations that lead us astray. As a throwback to a simpler time, Cape May is a lovely vehicle of time and place. The language is beautiful, and it is a testament to the attitudes and mores of its time; however, I couldn’t help but feel like the women got lost in this story. Maybe it was partly having it set in the 1950s, or maybe it’s just that it was told mainly through the point of view of a young man who clearly didn’t understand women. I wanted to like this novel. I understand why it’s being compared to The Great Gatsby. But overall I was disappointed, and it’s rare that I have to say that about a book.
Galleys were provided by Celadon Books, with many thanks.