Reviewed by Donna Meredith
In Barbara Davis’s haunting novel, The Wishing Tide, three people allow their troubled pasts to define the present, stripping them of any chance of happiness.
Expertly plotted yet character-driven, this lovely book is highly recommended to those who enjoy fine Southern fiction like the novels of Anne Rivers Siddons and Cassandra King. Adding to an already pleasant reading experience, the front cover is simply gorgeous. But be forewarned: the crippling resentments and guilt that burden these characters may, at times, move you to tears.
The novel gains dramatic power from chapters told in the alternating viewpoints of Mary, Lane, and Michael. For their own reasons, all three have run away to Starry Point, where they have almost, but not quite, relinquished hope that their wounds could ever heal.
The fictional island village in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, as close as you can get to the edge of the world, provides the perfect symbolic setting. Davis describes the island and its weather so deliciously that you can practically feel the salt drying on your skin and the sand between your toes. One aspect of island life captured particularly well is the influence of weather on residents’ lives. Storms, both literal and figurative, batter Starry Point in the beginning and final chapters, and also play a pivotal role in past events.
Standing at the novel’s center is Lane Kramer. Five years earlier, following an unpleasant marriage and divorce, Lane purchased Cloister House on a whim and turned it into a successful bed and breakfast. She has a bad habit of blaming others, especially her mother and former husband, for her failures. Lane once had dreams of writing novels, but because her ex and a writing professor ridicule her work, she abandons the notion. When her business is closed for the off-season, instead of exploring topics she feels passionate about, she freelances pieces about “the unimportant stuff” that “no one’s going to remember . . . so there’s very little pressure.” She doesn’t think of herself as a real writer. She has no expectations beyond a quiet, dull existence.
Dirty Mary is the crazy lady who rides a pink bicycle through town and often sits on the dunes in front of Lane’s B&B, staring out to sea, searching for “the truth.” Through small acts of kindness, Lane befriends Mary and wins her trust, gradually uncovering pieces of her story. But Mary has dark secrets that she hides even from Lane.
Just as Lane closes the B&B for the off-season, a tropical storm arrives, delivering Michael Forrester to Lane’s doorstep. Michael has his secrets too, especially what has brought him to the island and to Cloister House in particular. An English professor, he charms Lane into letting him stay on through the winter to write a book on social commentary in the works of Charles Dickens, “the important stuff.” A deeply unhappy and sometimes unlikeable man, Michael has spent most of his life running away from horrific childhood memories and avoiding meaningful relationships. He asks Lane how you “figure out if you’re where you’re supposed to be in life, or if you’re just, you know, treading water.” Consumed by the past, neither of them has been brave enough to fight for the lives they want.
When a rash of petty thefts plagues Starry Point, some quickly blame the residents of the halfway house where Mary lives. The town’s movers and shakers push to close down the halfway house. For the first time, Lane becomes truly involved in the community as she fights to save Hope House. Michael warns her—quite vehemently—that befriending a mentally ill person is only going to suck her into a vortex of problems that will ruin her life. She, as well as the reader, wonders what has shaped his attitude.
With Lane as the catalyst, all the long-buried secrets and misunderstandings surface, changing the way each of these troubled people view their pasts, their futures, and ultimately themselves and each other.
The Wishing Tide is Barbara Davis’s second novel, following The Secrets She Carried. A former jeweler, she lives in North Carolina with her husband.
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