I spent a lot of time in beach resort towns when I was younger. My grandmother and her second husband retired to the panhandle of Florida when I was ten and about to start the seventh grade, and when they moved down there I actually rode along with them because it was summer. My aunt and uncle had a beach house that they would rent out for weeks and weekends to make money in a small beach town along the Emerald Coast (they called it the Miracle Strip back then; Panama City Beach) and until we moved away to California, we used to go down to visit my grandparents and time it around a visit to the beach house as well. In the years since, I’ve often thought about writing about the panhandle and those sleepy little beach towns (believe me, Panama City Beach has changed dramatically since the 1970s); my short story “Cold Beer No Flies” is one of those stories, and I have another one–book-length–that I am considering writing at some point in the near future.
But beach resorts and the townies have always been interesting to me; the difference between those who live there year round and those who simply vacation there; the drifters who come in for jobs during those summer months and then disappear–what do they leave in their wake?–and it just seemed rife with possibilities.
So, after greatly enjoyed her sophomore novel The Mother Next Door, I was really looking forward to her reading her debut novel, One Night Gone.
Constant Reader, it did not disappoint.
The girl tried not to look up into the hazy summer night, the seagulls circling overheard like giant paper airplanes. They made her dizzy. She focused on the horizon, the dark ocean churning, its vastness broken up by milky froths.
Thomas, the guy from the party, was pressed up against her, his thighs tight against hers. She could feel the heat in her cheeks, but at least it was cooler here at the end of the pier, away from the lights and sounds, from the constant pop pop pop bling bling of the arcade games and the deafening roar of the Zipper, a ride she’d thrown up on last year and then swore her friends to secrecy.
Thomas dipped her back over the railing–not too far, but enough that she felt the danger, felt that if he just shifted his large hand an inch or so off her back she’d fall, tumble like a tragic mistake. He laughed, pulling her back, his dewy breath catching in her hair.
“Stop it,” she said, batting at him, though she wasn’t sure she meant it.
She liked him. She liked the way he made her feel–important. Funny. Sexy. At the party, he’d said he was from the cornfields of Indiana, a state–she would never tell him–that she wouldn’t be able to point out on a map. He was tall like a cornstalk, she thought, and let that bubble up into a giggle on her lips as he swayed into her again and kissed it away.
One thing I absolutely love in crime novels is different timelines–one in the past and one in the present. I myself have never done this; and perhaps it’s about time I try (one of the ideas I have, ironically set in a Florida panhandle beach town, is a dual timeline novel); I’ve always admired writers who can do this and pull it off with aplomb because it looks really hard to me. Laura Lippman did this beautifully in After I’m Gone; Alison Gaylin in What Remains of Me; and Carol Goodman is a master of this. Add Tara Laskowski to this list–she also managed to pull it off with The Mother Next Door, her marvelous follow-up.
The story focuses on two women thirty years apart who come to Opal Beach for their own reasons. Allison, our modern heroine, is a former meteorologist who was fired for unprofessional conduct when going off on her cheating (now) ex-husband on air; she went viral and left her cheating husband, and her sister finds her this great housesitting gig in a mansion on the beach in the off-season and so Allison comes to a beautiful house on the Jersey shore in a resort full of secrets–going back to the disappearance of our 1980’s heroine, Maureen. Maureen comes from a bad background and she works for the carnival that comes to Opal Beach every summer; she finds herself becoming friends with locals and even getting romantically involved with one. Maureen is also desperate the way Allison is; desperate to escape a terrible past and start a new life with the cons and crimes of her past behind her. Maureen disappears that summer, never to be found again–and somehow Allison’s arrival at Opal Beach starts dredging up secrets and lies from that past so long ago…and Allison’s own life is put in jeopardy because there are any number of people who have their own reasons for wanting Maureen to stay buried in the past…
Laskowski is a terrific writer, with a knack for being highly efficient and proficient in her sentence and paragraph construction; she creates characters that are rounded and complete and multi-dimensional; and her ability to explore how little slights and personality clashes can grow into festering wounds is exceptional. Opal Beach felt very real to me–the bonfire parties on the beach, the gift shops and restaurants catering to the summer people, the climate and weather and the house itself. I really enjoyed this, and got caught up in the story quite easily.
Can’t wait for her next one.
One thought on “Where Have You Been”
That sounds really good. I’ll add it to my TBR list.