The House on Oyster Creek
Heidi John Schmidt
NAL Trade, 368 pages
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I picked up The House on Oyster Creek because the title and cover blurb intrigued me. It ended up being nothing like what I expected, but that’s not a bad thing.
In this lyrically written novel, you can hear the coming and going of the tide off Cape Cod in the author’s words. Schmidt certainly knows how to set a mood – and she does so, here, with delicacy. When we meet protagonist Charlotte Tradescome, and her husband Henry, we are given the impression that the younger, more vibrant Charlotte loves her thorny, somewhat aloof husband, but is no longer entirely “in love” with him, especially since the birth of their now-three-year-old daughter. …
When Henry’s father dies, and the couple inherit a house on the cape, Charlotte seizes it as an opportunity to take her child away from the hustle and bustle of life in New York City, and give her something “real.” She immediately embraces the new location, the crusty locals who deem her a “washashore,” and the rhythm of life on the shore. She also falls for a local oyster farmer Darryl Stead, while Henry spends his time reading, writing, and hitting the local pub late at night.
In any other author’s hands, Charlotte would divorce Henry, marry Darryl, and proceed to have an epic romance. In Schmidt’s hands, that doesn’t happen, and while Henry is portrayed as the ultimate curmudgeon, we also see that there’s real affection between himself and his wife.
It is, however, the land war that Charlotte accidentally causes that is the center of this story – and a metaphor for the Henry/Charlotte/Darryl triangle. When selling off part of their land, Charlotte left the door open for greedy rich folk to build a house totally out of tune with the coast, and block access to the oyster farms.
Of course Darryl is one of those most affected by that act, and of course they work together to rectify the situation.
Meanwhile, the year turns, the characters grow, and every few scenes, fresh oysters are being cooked and served.
This may not be the best novel in the world, but for summer beach reading, it holds some lovely surprises – pearls in the oysters, if you will.
Goes well with: Fried oysters and cold beer.