On Folly Beach
by Karen White
New American Library
It’s only a matter of time before author Karen White moves to coastal South Carolina. Since her first visit to the marshes and dune-framed beaches, White was “completely mesmerized.”
“It was just like coming home to me, it was the weirdest thing,” White recalls about her first trip to the Lowcountry. “I remember standing on a dock, looking over the marsh at sunset, and I remember thinking this is the most beautiful place on earth.”
The Atlanta resident has been passively scheming to move to the area ever since. In the meantime, she has used the locale as inspiration for her novels. Beginning with The Memory of Water in 2008, White has penned five tales of romance and mystery that unfold under the backdrop of the South Carolina coastline.
Her latest work, released on May 12 by Penguin Publishing Group, is no exception. Centered on the small barrier island of Folly, the aptly titled piece of Southern chick lit, On Folly Beach, weaves a story of intrigue and heartache on what some consider the red-headed stepchild of Charleston’s beach communities. Embracing the locals’ love for the slightly weathered, relaxed settlement, White depicts the island as it is today, juxtaposed with a vision of the town in the early 1940s. The novel flips back and forth between the present day and the World War II era, as the stories of three women, suffering from intense loss, connect over the power of love and heartache.
In 2009, protagonist Emmie Hamilton moves to the Edge of America in hopes of forgetting the past, coping with the recent death of her husband, who fought in the war in Afghanistan. Emmie purchases a small bookstore on the island and becomes close with the family who previously owned it, after discovering secret love notes written in the margins of the owner’s antique book collection. The inscriptions lead her on a quest to uncover the truth about a dysfunctional family struggling with the effects of the war.
The strong focus on family is seen throughout the book, as in White’s other published works. The inspiration is obvious; White claims her family trumps everything else, including her work. Yet, despite her dedication to her children, White found time to write during their formative years.
“When I wrote my first book, my children were 8 and 6, and my husband traveled all the time,” she says. “I was running them everywhere. That is when I got my first laptop.” In those early years, White says it was not uncommon to see her writing as she waited for the end of riding lessons or in the pick-up line at soccer fields.
The strong familial ties show through in her story lines, many of which revolve around the relationships between family members. In On Folly Beach, the dynamic between two sisters, and one wild female cousin, are front and center, and not without reason.
“The sister thing has always fascinated me. I grew up feeling deprived that I missed the greatest experience,” she says. “I am the only girl out of four children. My books are always about sisters.”
For now, her family has kept her in Atlanta, complacent with raising her children in one place while writing about what she hopes will someday be her home. However, with her oldest planning to head off to college — the College of Charleston she hopes — and the youngest preparing to get his driver’s license, White will keep an eye on the housing market in the Holy City.