Friday, March 8, 2013

Moon Over Edisto by Beth Webb Hart

The Bennett family was happy and loving.  For years, the married couple and their two daughters spent their summers in a little beach house on Edisto Island less than an hour away from their Charleston, South Carolina home.  The girls fished and sailed boats, their mother cooked large, sumptuous meals and their father immersed himself in his favorite hobby: painting.  One summer, the eldest daughter Julia brings her college roommate to stay with the family.  Marney becomes like an adopted daughter, joining in on family activities and working with Julia to save money before going back to college again each fall.  But one summer, something is different.  Marney stands a little too close to Charlie Bennett, drinks from his cup, stares a little too long.  That fall, Charlie announces that he is divorcing Mary Ellen and stays out at the beach house permanently with Marney. 

Before the Bennett’s know it, Marney is expecting a child and Charlie marries her so the two can start a new family.  Heartbroken, the Bennett women all deal with this loss in different ways.  Julia flees to graduate school and then New York City where she has become a famous painter and visual arts teacher at a university.  Second daughter Meg keeps everything in her life as orderly and proper as possible and continues to do so throughout marriage and children.  Mary Ellen takes up a new job in Charleston and becomes a well-respected frame restorer for an antique store.  Each of the women avoids the issue as much as possible, even after Charlie’s death several years later.

Fast forward twenty-five years and the Bennett women have rebuilt their lives in one fashion or another.  Then one evening after Julia is preparing for a large art show, Marney appears at her door in New York.  She has lung cancer and needs Julia to care for her three children while she recovers.  Julia, who has never met her half siblings (and never wanted to) and has a big Fulbright scholarship trip planned to Istanbul in the coming months is convinced that there must be someone else who can care for these children.  After all, Marney ruined her family and years of her happiness.  Julia certainly doesn’t owe her anything.

But Julia changes her mind and returns to South Carolina and the island that she has tried not to think about for years.  Terrified that this trip will destroy her emotionally, she treads very lightly at first.  But when she sees the youngest boy who has her father’s eyes, the middle daughter who loves to draw and paint just as she and her father used to and the serious eldest child who loves to read she finds herself falling in love with the family she never knew. 

Julia may not find all of the answers to her questions, but by returning to Edisto she does more for herself and the three children than she’d ever imagined.  Moon Over Edisto is full of the southern Gothic and emotional pull of a complicated family saga.  Most of Hart's books take place in Charleston or the South Carolina lowlands and anyone who has ever visited will tell you her portrayal is as real as it gets.  This book isn't all southern belles and sweet tea, but it is chock full of charm and personal growth.