Reviewed by Jenny Huston Crowley
Many readers think of a “beach read” as having a shallow storyline and underdeveloped characters. It Comes in Waves, Erika Marks’s fourth novel, fits the beach material category, except that Marks has written an engaging story with skill and insight. According to the author, “There’s no question that for me, writing about relationships – be they romantic, familial, friendship – is my favorite part of creating a story.”
Marks knows how to pull the reader into her story: by revealing her characters’ passions, faults and virtues, sometimes simultaneously, and providing relationship tension on every page. Weaving the present with the past, the author sets the action in Folly Beach, South Carolina, a locale well known to Marks, who vacations there.
It Comes in Waves is Claire “Pepper” Patton’s story. While on vacation at Folly Beach, Claire discovers her natural talent for surfing and falls in love with the sport and with Foster King, son of a local surf shop proprietor. Against her parents’ wishes, she leaves college to follow her dream of competitive surfing. Claire and Foster’s friendship with Shep (Foster’s surfer roommate) and Jill (Shep’s girlfriend) entwines the four of them so tightly that when the bonds break through deceit and unfaithfulness, Claire’s world dissolves. She runs away to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she continues to surf competitively, but she is no longer successful. Running away again, she heads to Colorado to find a new love and to forget surfing, her friends at Folly Beach, and her parents in Charleston with whom she has always had a contentious relationship.
Years later, Claire, in her early forties, is a divorced high school teacher with a rebellious teenage daughter. The unexpected offer of an ESPN interview as part of a TV special on pioneering female surfers gives Claire an opportunity to go back to Folly Beach. Having been away from surfing for almost twenty years, Claire vacillates about accepting the all-expenses-paid trip – a journey that will force her to face her past. Though she won’t see her former boyfriend Foster (he died several years earlier), she may run into his widow Jill, her ex-friend, and Luke, Foster’s son, who is now a teenager. She struggles to make a decision, but once her ex-husband, daughter Lizzie’s father, ridicules Claire for considering the trip, she accepts the ESPN invitation and takes Lizzie on her first visit to Folly Beach. Proud of her past surfing accomplishments, Claire seeks her daughter’s respect. With this trip, Claire hopes to mend the mother-daughter relationship that’s been strained by Lizzie’s choice of boyfriend. Like Claire as a teenager, Lizzie is determined to do what she wants in spite of what her mom thinks is best. When Claire arrives in Folly Beach, she meets Gus Gallagher, handsome former surfer, owner of the mega-surf shop that’s sponsoring the TV special, and the person who suggested that ESPN invite Claire. She tries to ignore Gus, but the attraction between them grows. Wanting to concentrate on her relationship with Lizzie, Claire soon realizes that teenage rebellion is not so easily subdued.
There is tension throughout the story, but the pacing moves more rapidly in the second half. In the first half, backstory reveals the many characters’ personalities, but the alternating sections of past and present events can at times be confusing. However, the contrast between the naïve, young and carefree surfers and the serious, responsible, and cautious adults they’ve become adds complexity to the narrative. Though the characters have grown older, emotions from their past experiences can’t be ignored.
The dynamic between ex-friends Claire and Jill is like a pair of dancers out of sync with one another. Readers expect the two women to collide, to fight, and to say all the things they never had a chance to say to one another because Claire left town, but Marks gives us a surprise, a deft handling of the resolution that is reasonable and satisfying.
Read It Comes in Waves to remember past relationships, relax, and learn about the natural beauty of Folly Beach. If you can’t sit in a chair on a beach to read this book, sit in a rocking chair at home with your bare feet propped on the porch railings. I’ll bet your imagination summons the sound of surf lapping against the sand and the squawk of sea gulls bobbing in the breeze.
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