For most of her life, Laura Martinez has been kept on the outside of a tall, glass wall that blocks her from her mother — or, more significantly, from her mother’s heart. Aging quickly, Helen Tobin chooses to be cloaked in the past — one she shared with Joseph, her beloved husband, and Laura’s mysterious father. A past in which Laura was always on the periphery, shadowed by her older brother Holden.
Decades after her father’s death and still in the seaside home she shared with him, Helen is lost in memories of her time with Joseph, an Associated Press reporter who worked overseas and saw his family little. Ever the writer, Joseph sent his wife countless letters asserting his love and devotion — letters with secrets, passions and pain kept from Laura until her adulthood.
After Helen suffers a stroke, Laura — now a wife and mother herself — searches for a way to reconnect with the mother she feels left her when her father did. But as she pours through Joseph’s correspondence with her mother, searching for a truth and way back into Helen’s life, Laura realizes the two of them share far more than she ever realized. And maybe their relationship isn’t irreparable after all.
Lynne Griffin’s Sea Escape is a quiet, moving novel centering on mothers and daughters, fathers and sons — families, complicated and vast and difficult. Shades of Helen and Laura’s relationship can probably be seen in any mother/daughter duo, no matter how close — or how distant — they may appear.
From the onset, I was drawn in by Griffin’s language. Her words brought me straight onto the porch of Sea Escape, her mother’s beloved home, or into the hospital room where she stood reading letters to Helen. In one poignant passage, Laura recalls meeting the Martinez clan, her husband’s family — a group that doesn’t seem to harbor nearly the resentment and unhappiness that swamps her own family:
Not one member of the Martinez family had any worries, or so it seemed to me. They laid their feelings out like loaves of bread left to cool on a wire rack. Right there for others to take or leave, the choice was theirs. The family air was clear, like the aroma of sugar sweet and herbs fresh.
Couldn’t you crawl right into those feelings — that situation, that intoxicating scent?
Sea Escape alternates between Helen and Joseph’s courtship in the 1950s and present day, when Laura is tending to her mother’s needs and attempting to reconcile their difficult relationship. I loved the scenes explaining Helen’s origins most of all — especially those detailing her early life and struggles with her own parents and, later, the difficulties in her marriage with Joseph. As a reader, I never questioned how madly in love Helen was with Joseph, and vice versa — though even that love, at times all-consuming, wasn’t always enough.
Religion plays an important role in the story, though it’s never heavy-handed. A devout Catholic, Helen seeks solace in her faith and the trinkets Laura’s sister-in-law, Luce, brings her as her health is failing. I appreciated the light touch Griffin used when discussing the ways in which Helen found comfort in God while Laura — a realistic, sympathic narrator — still questioned her mother’s feelings. As the story unfolds, Laura begins to see things a little more from her mother’s perspective — but she doesn’t suddenly “find Christ.” Sudden epiphanies are a major pet peeve of mine.
Overall, Sea Escape was a captivating glimpse into a complicated mother/daughter relationship, and I loved getting to know Laura and Helen through one another’s eyes. Though not a fast-paced, happy or humorous tale, Griffin’s second novel succeeded in twisting my heart. Despite its somber tone, I enjoyed this novel steeped just long enough in historical details to give us a flavor of a different era — but still ringing with contemporary truths with which many women, old and young, will understand.
4 out of 5!
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours