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McMahan's debut novel is a vividly drawn but uneven love letter to coastal South Carolina. Emmett and Lauren Sullivan's lifestyle has never matched their upper-crust neighbors', but they've been comfortable raising their daughters in their "money pit" of an ancestral home. Then their nine-year-old daughter, Ainslie, is stricken with a rare form of cancer, and the family is plunged into chaos. Suddenly Emmett is battling a recalcitrant insurance company; the stress of caring for a sick child full-time begins to take its toll on Lauren; and 18-year-old Sloan's college plans are in jeopardy. As the parents' financial and emotional problems consume the family, Sloan finds escape with a new boyfriend whose preppy good looks and moneyed charm mask a dangerous streak. McMahan's descriptions of the Lowcountry and its unique climate and customs jump off the page, but her characters and plot have trouble matching the wealth of scenery. There's emotional sincerity and depth, and ample talent for description and pacing, but the eventual payoff and resolution, though unconventional, falls slightly flat. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.