Reviewed by Donna Meredith
One of the biggest pleasures in reading The Guest House by Erika Marks is watching the missteps in communication among three generations of characters. Readers are treated to at least half a dozen viewpoints as the tale unfolds.
The various viewpoints and introduction of many characters make the first chapters of the novel a bit confusing, but once you figure out the family relationships, the rest of the book reads easily.
The Guest House develops a strong sense of time and place, much like the novels of Anne Rivers Siddons, Cassandra King, and Karen White. With frequent shifts between 1966 and 2012 in a Cape Cod town, the novel weaves together the stories of Edie Worthington Wright and her now-adult children Lexi and Owen. The town’s locals both need the summer visitors they refer to as “wash-ashores” and resent them for their overly grand mansions and the demeaning way some of them treat the locals.
Coming of age in the 60s, Edie cusses like a construction worker—and she is one. Frequently, she is ticked off because her boss, Hank Wright, doesn’t let her do anything, on the jobsite, that she deems important. Even in the parts of the novel that take place in 2012, Edie and her all-woman work crew have trouble getting jobs, which says much about the women’s progress in nontraditional fields. Without ever once mentioning the women’s movement, the author captures its spirit in Edie’s flamboyance and insistence that others recognize her as a person of equal worth.
It is Edie’s chutzpah and mettle that so many young men fall in love with, including one of the richest summer residents, Tucker Moss. Edie is one of the workers who helped to build the Moss’s guest house one summer and now her crew is rebuilding it so the house can be sold.
The life of Edie’s daughter Lexi serves as the dominant thread of the novel. At eighteen, she falls in love with Tucker Moss’s son, Hudson, and a five-year affair begins. Although Hudson loves Lexi, he is too weak to resist his father’s plans to marry him to a wealthy woman of social standing. On the night Hudson breaks Lexi’s heart, his younger brother Cooper kisses her. Two years later when Lexi returns from her photography studies in London, she accepts a job photographing the Moss house for the historical register, reviving her memories of a painful loss—and the memory of Cooper’s tantalizing kiss.
Edie’s older son Owen provides a third plotline in the novel. A divorced father, Owen struggles to maintain a relationship with his teenage daughter. He can’t accept that Meg has outgrown the vanilla wafers she loved as a five year old. She has a boyfriend. She texts. And worse yet—she thinks her mother’s new boyfriend is okay.
Both the Wright and Moss families grapple with memories, with love lost and found, as they forge paths forward. When the truth about who carved “I love Edie Worthington” in the Moss guest house emerges from years of misperception, all the people whose lives swirl around these broken hearts may have a chance to let go of grudges and heal. The Guest House reminds us how difficult achieving any degree of honesty can be even among family members, let alone with a man or woman whose rejection would stomp on our hearts.
Marks is a native New Englander who has worked as an illustrator, art director, and cake decorator; and like Edie Worthington Wright, Marks worked as a carpenter. She currently lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and their two daughters. She has written two previous novels, Little Gale Gumbo and The Mermaid Collector.
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