Spoiler Alert – This review includes some spoilers. If you don’t want to know what happens, don’t read past the second paragraph.
When author Holly Caster contacted me and asked me to review her novel Cape May, I was interested mostly because I’m from New Jersey and I welcomed the opportunity to read a little about Cape May, even fiction. I’m honestly not sure I’ve ever been there (maybe I’ve passed through once?), but my parents and my sister and her husband enjoy spending time there, usually staying at a small bed and breakfast. So, that made the premise of the story even more interesting: the main character, 60-year-old Joanna, seeks a change, planning to move from New York City to Cape May to open her own bed and breakfast. Perfect, right? I thought so. I was less sure about the rest of the premise: in the process of pursuing her dream, she falls in love with a man who is not her husband, whom she had married on a whim—and not for love—twenty years earlier. The specter of infidelity made me slightly less interested in reading the book, but the book jacket’s description ends thus: “How will her late awakening affect the future and her three-decade relationship with [her husband] Brian?” I figured the story could go either way – Joanna could choose rightly or wrongly; the idea that she would remain faithful to her husband seemed just as plausible as her choosing infidelity. So, I said yes and agreed to read the book.
The result? Mixed. On the first count, regarding reading about Cape May, I definitely enjoyed the description of the town, the old houses and bed-and-breakfasts, and just generally reading about being in a “Seaside Resort,” as the author terms it on the book jacket. It made me miss living by the beach, and I could practically hear, smell, and taste the ocean while I read about Michael showing Joanna around Cape May.
My lingering overall impression of the book is just sadness. No, heartache. The novel’s central characters experience such profound heartache, most of it inflicted by those close to them, that I just felt—and still feel—so sad. I feel sad for Joanna that she wound up unhappy in her marriage, but more sad for Brian that he wound up with a selfish, unfaithful spouse. I can find no room in my heart to be happy for Joanna and Michael as they embark on a life together, living Joanna’s dream of running her own bed and breakfast. None. Instead I just feel disgust for them.
It’s unfortunate that I wound up disliking the story so much, because the writing is great. The story is engaging and emotional – I literally had tears rolling down my cheeks when I read it (and I don’t think it’s because I was newly pregnant…though it could be). I cried for all of the characters as they navigate their unfortunate circumstances: Joanna, for her adolescent mistakes, for her decision to settle with Brian, for her indecision and heartache when she becomes involved with Michael. For Brian, and for Michael, as Joanna’s indecision drags each of their hearts through the ringer. And for much more. It’s just so, so sad what people do to one another, intentionally or not, as they navigate life and love. I also just have a really hard time reading (especially fictional) accounts of people making such bad choices…
In any case, this book gets 3 stars. Usually 3 stars means “it was good enough/it taught me something.” My rationale in this case is basically that while I didn’t particularly care for the story, I really do think it’s an excellent piece of writing and the author deserves credit for crafting a well-written and emotionally compelling story.
**Many thanks to Holly Caster for providing a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.