Abbie Fox hasn’t seen her father or two younger sisters in almost two years. But now Lily, the baby of the family, is sending Abbie urgent emails begging her to return home. Their middle sister, Emma, has taken to her bed, devastated after losing her high-powered job and breaking up with her fiancé. Also, Lily is worried that the beautiful, enigmatic woman renting their guesthouse has set her sights on their widowed father. The Fox sisters closed ranks years ago after the haunting, untimely death of their mother, but seeing their dad move on with his life forces each of them to take stock.
Over the course of the summer, the sisters’ lives grow as turbulent as the unpredictable currents off the New England coast: Abbie breaks her own rules in the name of love, type-A Emma learns a new definition of success, and strong-minded Lily must reconcile her dreams with reality. At summer’s end, these unforgettable women will face profound choices—and undergo personal transformations that will surprise even themselves.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.19(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.84(d)|
About the Author
Nancy Thayer is the New York Times bestselling author of Moon Shell Beach, The Hot Flash Club, The Hot Flash Club Strikes Again, Hot Flash Holidays, The Hot Flash Club Chills Out, and Between Husbands and Friends. She lives on Nantucket.
Read an Excerpt
Abbie, Lily, and Emma, Sort of
date:June 5, 2009
Oh, Crabapple, I hate it when I can’t reach you by phone. Where are you? Why isn’t your cell phone on? Would you please please email me right away? We’re all in a mess here and we need you to come home.
subject:But don’t panic.
date:June 5, 2009
Disregard that last email. Well, don’t disregard it completely, but no one is dead or anything. It’s just that Dad’s in financial trouble, plus a sexy woman’s after him, and Emma lost her job AND Duncan broke off their engagement. Emma came home from Boston and just lies on her bed, crying all day long. She’s so thin, I’m kind of scared for her. I’m trying to keep up with the house and everything, but my crazy busy season’s started with the magazine. And I guess you’d better not call me, because you’re six hours ahead or behind or whatever and I probably can’t talk when you can plus I know you hate the expense of a transatlantic call. Just please, please, come home.
date:June 5, 2009
I’ll email Emma today. But honey, isn’t it about time Dad had a girlfriend? Mom’s been gone for fifteen years. He’s probably lonely. And maybe you’re overestimating Dad’s money problems. I mean, everyone’s having trouble this year. Has he told you he’s worried about money?
date:June 5, 2009
Hi, Emma, what’s going on? Lily tells me you’re back home. God, you must be desperate. I Email me, let me know you’re okay, okay?
date:June 5, 2009
Dad hasn’t said he’s worried, but he acts worried, and he’s rented the Playhouse (to that woman, wait till you see her!), plus he said he might put the boat up for sale. And I know a lot of the people who’d hired him to renovate their houses have canceled. I can see with my own eyes how little work there is for him this summer. I think if you were here, he’d talk about it. I know he thinks I’m still a baby.
date:June 7, 2009
Just send me one little email, okay? You don’t even have to say anything. Just hit reply!
subject:I’m coming home.
date:June 8, 2009
I’ve got a reservation on British Air. I’ll be home tomorrow. Probably around three, if my connections go smoothly.
So here she was, on Nantucket. In a small rented cottage in the middle of an enchanted island. At least she hoped it was enchanted. She was waking to another day without family or love or plans for the future.
Still, she felt just a bit better.
Lying curled in her bed, she forced herself to name just five things for which she was grateful. It was an exercise Christie had advised her to perform first thing in the morning and last thing at night. If nothing else, Christie had told her, it will give you a little bit of structure, one tidy line to start the morning and end the day to make you feel enclosed and on task.
All right then.
Marina was grateful that she’d slept through the night without needing a sleeping pill. She’d been afraid she was becoming addicted to them. Over the past few months, the divorce had plunged her into a state of grief and despair that at night turned into a raging anger and a kind of burning terror—what was her life about? Did she mean nothing? But here on the island, for the past three weeks, she’d discovered that something in the sea air worked like a charm to make her fall into a deep, relaxing sleep. Christie had been right to tell her to come here to heal.
Two—well, she was grateful she’d found the cottage. It resembled a dollhouse, with wild roses rambling all over the roof and clematis and wisteria blossoming on the trellis on the outside walls. The windows were mullioned like a fairy-tale cottage. The door was bright blue. Inside, one large room served for living, dining, and kitchen areas. A ladder led up to the loft with the bed. Windows on three sides provided views of the birds nesting in an apple tree on her right, a pine tree on her left, and a hawthorn tree straight ahead.
Inside, the décor was—well, there was no décor, actually. The few furnishings had a cast-off and shabby air, but were basically sound and comfortable. No curtains hung from the windows. No paintings graced the walls. No rugs brightened the floors, but she could understand that. It was so easy to track sand into the house, and the floors were wood and felt cool and smooth to the soles of her feet.
She was grateful to be in the heart of the town. That was the third thing, and it had been on her list every morning and every night. The cottage was off an idyllic lane in the illustrious historic district. She could walk to the grocery store, the pharmacy, the post office, the library. Tucked away at the far end of a long garden, it had once been the Playhouse for the family that had grown up in the huge old house at the front. The owner and one of his daughters lived in the house. Their presence made Marina feel not so alone. She liked seeing the lights come on in different rooms of the house. The daughter, Lily, was pretty, but not very friendly. Well, she was only twenty-two. Marina must seem ancient to her.
Jim Fox, on the other hand, was really nice. He’d brought her fresh fish several times already, and often in the evenings when he came home from work, he jumped out of his red pickup truck and sauntered down the lawn to chat with her. Did she need anything? If she did, she had only to ask, he’d be glad to help. Had she enjoyed the bluefish? Would she like some more when he went out fishing again? He was so attentive that Marina sometimes wondered if he were hitting on her. She doubted it. She was sure she wasn’t giving off any sexual vibes, since her sexuality was hiding under its shell like a wounded turtle. Although she could still recognize that Jim was an awfully attractive man, tall, muscular, and comfortable enough in his powerful body to be easygoing and kind.
Fourth, she was grateful for Christie’s enduring, sustaining friendship and especially for her wisdom this summer.
Odd, how things turned out.
Long ago, when she started seventh grade, Marina had teamed up with two very different best friends. Christie was her good friend, pretty, cheerful, popular, and smart. Dara was her exciting friend, always ready to try something new and outrageous, more sexy than good-looking. They remained best friends when they all started at the same gigantic university in Columbia, Missouri, but by their sophomore summer, things changed. Christie and Marina decided to go off to Nantucket to work as waitresses. They’d heard that the pay was good, the island was gorgeous, and they could party like crazy on their time off. Dara couldn’t believe they were going to be waitstaff—she considered such a job way too far beneath her. She didn’t need the money the way Christie and Marina did, and she went off with other college friends to backpack in Europe.
Marina and Christie had so much fun, they returned to the island for the next two summers. During the academic year, they still spent time with each other, but Dara ran with a new, fast crowd, and the trio was never the same after that. After graduation, they went their separate ways. Dara wanted money. Marina wanted to turn her love of color and design into a career. Christie just wanted her high school sweetheart, Bob.
Christie married Bob right after college—Marina was her maid of honor. A few years later, when Marina married Gerry Warren, Christie was Marina’s matron of honor, lumbering down the aisle, eight months pregnant. After that, Marina had seen little of Christie. Their lives were so different, and they were so busy. Christie and Bob lived in happy chaos with their hundreds of children—really, only an eventual five—on a lake outside Kansas City.
Marina and Gerry met in college. He was handsome, with thick, straight blond hair and sapphire eyes. He was smart, too, and witty. At first she thought he was just a bit too smug and shallow, but he wanted Marina, he pursued Marina, and his varied and creative attempts to charm her were irresistible. Perhaps she didn’t love Gerry, but she was helplessly seduced by his desire.
Their ambitions were similar, too, and that drew them together as a natural pair. He was a dynamite salesman; she was artistic and creative. Marina and Gerry started a graphic design/ad agency in the Kansas City area. They invested their own time and some start-up money borrowed from their parents, and they worked day and night. For a few years, work was the very air they breathed. They established themselves, grew a name, became successful, and paid back their parents. They bought a condo and the posh cars they displayed as ads for their success—a Jag for Gerry, a Saab convertible for Marina. But somehow, as the months and years went by, they never found time to relax. They were like a clock, their lives the two hands ticking around the face of the day and night, with never a second to stop.
What People are Saying About This
"The themes of sisterly support and personal healing are heartwarming and will appeal to fans of women's fiction, especially those who read Debbie Macomber and Elin Hilderbrand." -Library Journal
Reading Group Guide
A Conversation with Nancy Thayer
Random House Reader’s Circle: What made you write this story?
Nancy Thayer: The ideas for my books all come from deep within my heart and my life. In many ways, Beachcombers is about dealing with loss—of a parent, or like Marina, of a husband and best friend, or of an important job, income, and fiancé. We all face loss. Sometimes loss makes you dig deep into yourself to find what you never realized was there.
My mother was ninety-one and failing when I started writing Beachcombers. My sister, Martha, a nurse, visited my mother in her nursing home every day. When she was younger, my mother had worked for the development department of a hospital; she was capable and logical. She loved music and reading above all things. One time when I was a teenager, she was driving a car and I was sitting next to her, in the front seat. She had the radio on, playing classical music, when suddenly, Mother said, with joy, “Nancy, look at those birds!” She pointed to the sky. “It looks like they’re flying in time to the music!” Then she drove the car into a tree. (We weren’t hurt.) In some ways, my character Danielle is like how my mother was, loving, but often forgetting us because she’s hearing other music.
My sister often called from the Kansas City nursing facility to talk with me here in Nantucket. Mother, Martha, and I discussed so many memories. Later, while driving away from the nursing home, my sister would call and we’d talk about other memories of our mother. I knew we would be losing her soon. I began to wonder what it must be like to lose your mother when you are still very young, and that was the germ of Beachcombers.
RHRC: In Beachcombers, you delve into four very different female perspectives. Did you find any one woman harder to write than the others?
NT: Lily was the hardest character for me to write, not because she wasn’t like me, but because she was so very much like I was when I was in my twenties. True, I was the oldest of three children, so I did a lot of nurturing and caretaking like Abbie. I’d once lived in Kansas City, been divorced, and started my life over on Nantucket like Marina. I was practical, hardworking, and history-loving like Emma.
But when I was young, I was so Lily. I desperately wanted to leave Wichita, Kansas, where I grew up. I wanted to live in Paris or New York City. My best friend and I were going to run away, wear black turtlenecks, recite our poetry in coffee houses, and have mad affairs with dangerous men. If I had met Eartha when I was Lily’s age, I would have been her servant in a flash. When I look back at myself in my late teens and early twenties, I see someone who didn’t care a fig for keeping house or being on time and responsible. I wanted glamour, bright lights, sexy clothes, martinis! (Kansas was a dry state; I’d never had a martini.)
Knowing my past, when I wrote Beachcombers, it was hard for me to give Lily a break, because she was so much like I had been: kind of an idiot. Or are we all idiots at twenty?
RHRC: Do you begin writing with an idea of your characters in mind or do you allow them to evolve as the story progresses?
NT: I always start with characters in mind, and also a kind of theme, like loss, or as in Summer House, generations of family, or how friendships change over time. The characters definitely evolve as I write. They become more fully formed, more definitely themselves. In fact, they take over. Sometimes I have to stop typing and say aloud to my empty study, “I really can’t allow you to say that in print!” I am incapable of sitting and plotting in advance. I either type, or I go for a walk, and things shift in my brain. I want to say, “Well, why didn’t you tell me this in the first place!” Or I phone my daughter, Samantha Wilde, also a published novelist, and ask something like, “Should Joe marry Helen?” Sam will say, “Duh, no, Mom, he’s going to marry Sarah.” And I’ll say, “Oh! I had no idea,” but I know instantly she’s right, and I hang up the phone and go back to work.
Writing is a mystery, and when it works well, a delight. When it doesn’t work well, it goes into the shredder.
RHRC: Reading your novels always makes me want to visit Nantucket. Does the beauty and nature of Nantucket inspire your creativity while writing?
NT: I usually take a walk every day when I’m writing, often an adventure in the winter, but I love the ocean in the winter. It’s so dramatic! The white surf pounds. The air sparkles. On Great Point, I walk near harbor seals wallowing in the sand, oinking like pigs from eating so many fish. Once my husband and I saw a group of enormous grey seals with their gorilla bodies and black horse heads hanging out next to the shore like a bunch of adolescent gangsters. They were fascinated by us. We studied them. They studied us. They kind of flirted with us. I’m pretty sure they thought we were funny looking. Or maybe delicious looking. It was thrilling. And terrifying. We didn’t go any closer. Even the sweet little harbor seals bite. So much of such incomprehensible difference so near to us every day—that shakes the doldrums out of me and stirs me up.
Also, the town of Nantucket is exquisitely beautiful, the houses mostly old and shingled, with small gardens hidden behind hedges or picket fences. Many of the houses are named, with signs called quarter boards above the door. On Fair Street sits Fairy Tale, Fair Isle, and Fair Thee Well. Door knockers are mermaids, or whale tails, or scallop shells. Many houses have “widows’ walks” where women whose husbands were off at sea watched for approaching ships. Window boxes spill with flowers in most seasons. Walking around Main Street and over to India Street where our magnificent Greek Revival library stands and over to the Episcopal church with its Tiffany stained-glass window is always inspiring. And if I stop in at Even Keel for a mocha latte and one of their chocolate cakes, then I’m exhilarated.
I believe that sometimes you just have to go somewhere else. Perhaps you’ve had a tremendous loss and you’re sad. Or you’ve worked very hard and you’re exhausted. Or everything is great, but still, something’s missing and you can’t figure it out. Nantucket is thirty miles out at sea. You have to fly or take a boat to get here. Here, you’re surrounded by water. Here, no chains stores, no Dunkin Donuts or ToysUs, and if you rent a car, you can’t go faster than 25 mph on the narrow roads. History is everywhere; you walk on the cobblestones brought over from England hundreds of years ago. Nature is everywhere. And it isn’t only sweet. If you don’t watch out, a gull will swoop down and steal your sandwich right off your picnic blanket.
I’ve seen people come here for a week and leave changed. I’ve met groups of women who reunite here from all over the country in the autumn to rent a cottage, walk in the sand or on the moors, eat lobster dripping with butter or fresh sweet scallops, and talk all day and much of the night. They go home recharged for the year. I know the nature and beauty of the island changes people. I’ve heard them talk about it.
RHRC: Why do you think the relationships between sisters are so complex and complicated?
NT: I think relationships between any two human beings are complex and complicated. But with sisters, you’ve got emotional memories of the intense past to color everything that happens in the present. Children get labeled, even unintentionally, not just by their parents, but by the children themselves. “The Smart One,” “The Baby,” “The Favorite,” “The Shy One.” When we grow up, those roles lurk in our unconscious, shadowing our present behavior.
For example, my sister, Martha, is now my best friend. She is nine years younger than I, so she is the baby of the family. I have brown hair and hazel eyes, while Martha is a blond with gorgeous blue eyes. She was always adored by everyone, no matter what she did. Once, for example, she ruined my lipsticks. I yelled at her. She cried. My mother always just went gooey over Martha. “Oh, when you cry, your eyes turn turquoise! Nancy how can you be mean to her?” Martha looked like my father, so of course she was the favorite. She didn’t have to do chores. She had a canopy bed. Of course, I’m not saying she was spoiled. . . . Wait! Am I getting off track?
RHRC: I love the scene where Marina and Sheila go to Madaket Mall to find treasures. Have you ever found any surprising treasures in an unlikely place like Madaket Mall?
NT: Oh, yes. At the end of the summer, and this is true, many of the exceptionally wealthy women who vacation here for a month or two weeks have their maids bring their clothes to the dump because they wouldn’t dream of wearing them next summer, which will be a different season. Many of the clothes still have price tags on them.
I haven’t gotten clothing there, but I have friends who have. What I do get, although I hesitate to share this information, is British mysteries and British novels. There’s a book section in the Madaket Mall, and someone comes here in the summer and leaves brand-new British fiction behind. Bless them.
The thing to remember is that this is an island. The ferries and planes bring supplies over, but on this small island, it makes sense to recycle, and people did it here at the Madaket Mall before it became politically correct. Need a new door? New window frame? New dress? A mirror? Some pretty mismatched china for your rented summer cottage? It’s there. It may not fit perfectly, but it’s free.
RHRC: Why did you choose that specific line from e. e. cummings’s “Maggie and Milly and Molly and May”?
NT: This book begins with loss of all kinds. Sometimes we do lose ourselves right in the midst of a busy life. I think nature is a miraculous restorative. We can walk by the ocean, or hike up a mountain, or swim in a lake. We can weed our backyard garden. When we’re out in nature, our minds drift away from the little gerbil-wheel revolving endlessly in our mind. We take deep breaths—of new air, fresh air, different air. We watch the sun sparkle on water. Nature gives us back to ourselves, refreshed. It is ourselves we find in the sea.
RHRC: Do you agree with Danielle’s beliefs that the universe is always speaking to us?
NT: Yes. But it’s not like a two-way conversation on a cell phone. The universe is not going to solve our problems. I think the universe sends us hints to pay attention, be alive, look around.
Here’s an example: Yesterday my daughter, Sam, phoned in tears. She has three little children, she’s breastfeeding her baby, and she had two blocked milk ducts. She was in terrible pain and developing a fever. Her husband works and couldn’t come home to help. After her call, I was so worried, I went for a walk up and down the wharves, looking at the water, trying to decide what to do. Should I pack, take a ferry, drive three hours, and help her? Should I stay home and work? I was frantic. I kept thinking: two ducts! Two ducts! I turned the corner and there in the water were two ducks. It made me laugh out loud. I realized the problem was not terrible. When I got home, she phoned to say her husband had brought home antibiotics and she felt better. I think the universe sends us hints, clues, puns, and always amazing beauty to remind us where we are. Interpretation is up to us.
RHRC: Where did you get the idea for the Beachcombers Club?
NT: Perhaps deep in all our hearts lies a primitive soul who loves the idea of finding “treasure.” Certainly in twenty-seven years, everyone I’ve ever walked with on the beach has suddenly bent down and picked up a rock or a shell, studied it, and tucked it into his/her pocket. If you go into Nantucket houses, you’ll see shells on shelves, under glass, on windowsills, on the sides of the bathtubs. Out of zillions of pebbles and shells on the beach, everyone seems to discover something. “Now here is an interesting rock,” they say. Everyone becomes a beachcomber on Nantucket. The idea of a club came from walking with my children on the beach when they were smaller and I needed to find a way to discard some of our finds. (Although I wasn’t as peculiar a mother as Danielle was.)
RHRC: What are you working on at the moment?
NT: Heat Wave, which comes out in hardcover in summer, is about a young woman, Carley Winsted, who has two daughters and a wonderful life when suddenly she is widowed. In addition, the lives of her two best friends become inextricably tangled, and Carley must choose between them. She discovers she doesn’t, and perhaps can’t, always do the “right” thing. It’s the sort of lesson that’s hard for some of us to learn, especially good-hearted Carley. I hope readers will enjoy Carley’s company as much as I have.
1. Do brothers and sisters fight less and have more easygoing relationships than sisters? Why are the relationships between sisters so complicated?
2. Which of the four women did you most identify with?
3. Given Lily’s desire to visit glamorous places and have fancy things, why is she the only sister who comes back home to Nantucket after college?
4. Was Marina running away from her problems by going to Nantucket, or did she need time by herself to heal?
5. Danielle battles her depression in front of her girls, while Sydney is very strict with Harry and is often away from her family. Are either of them intrinsically bad mothers, or are they trying the best they can with the situations they have?
6. If Emma and Marina did not get caught red-handed, would Emma’s decision to remain discrete regarding her suspicions about the stolen light baskets seem more admirable, or should Emma have just gone straight to Spencer with her concerns?
7. Were Abbie, Emma, and Jim wrong to shelter and spoil Lily after Danielle’s death?
8. If you were in Emma’s shoes, would you encourage Abbie to continue her relationship with Howell, given what you know of Howell and Sydney’s relationship?
9. Should a couple who is not in love with each other stay together for the sake of their child?