Owl Island: A Novel

Owl Island

4.5 8
by Randy Sue Coburn

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“Coburn's beautifully realized second novel is a perceptive assessment of what women do in love. A richly conceived portrait of memory and identity.”—Kirkus Reviews

In this accomplished and dazzlingly written new novel, Randy Sue Coburn brings to life with tremendous heart, humor, and wisdom the Pacific Northwest enclave of Owl…  See more details below


“Coburn's beautifully realized second novel is a perceptive assessment of what women do in love. A richly conceived portrait of memory and identity.”—Kirkus Reviews

In this accomplished and dazzlingly written new novel, Randy Sue Coburn brings to life with tremendous heart, humor, and wisdom the Pacific Northwest enclave of Owl Island and its many unforgettable inhabitants. Among the aromatic cedars and lush firs, close to where Chinook salmon maneuver the choppy waters, Phoebe Allen has lived quietly and self-sufficiently for twenty years, raising her daughter, Laurienne, and running a small fishing-net business. But Phoebe’s past suddenly washes up on the shores of Owl Island: Renowned independent film director Whitney Traynor buys a house nearby on Spit in the Wind Road, forcing Phoebe to pry open the lid she’s kept clamped on her secrets and scars, plunging her ordered existence into chaos.

Whit was charismatic enough to “charm the ice off a dog dish” when Phoebe first fell in love with him as a voice on the radio, and he has not lost his touch–or his propensity to stir things up without even trying. Phoebe, Laurienne, and everyone else living on Owl Island are affected by his arrival. And Phoebe’s newfound intimacy with Ivan, a longtime friend and neighbor, far from offering escape, only further complicates matters. Memories of Whit transport Phoebe to a time long ago–one of innocence and awakening, passion and purpose, euphoria and regret–before their intense relationship came to an acrimonious end.

All these years, Phoebe has concealed truths from her daughter and may now be forced to divulge them. As the past rushes toward the present like an inevitable tide, Phoebe must also confront the early loss of her mother, whose own mysteries are at last beginning to surface.

A deeply affecting portrait of mothers and lovers, daughters and forgiveness, Owl Island reveals the damaging power of secrets, the importance of community, and the liberating lessons of love.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As a brilliant, gorgeous, hypertalented 15-year-old in the '70s, Phoebe Allen fell under the spell of 31-year-old movie director Whitney Traynor. By 18, she's living with him and coauthoring his screenplay for no credit; at 19 she's pregnant and married to musician Mitchell Gentry; a few years later she's a widow. Flash forward to 1996, where the book actually opens, and Phoebe's blossoming love affair with a local artist on Owl Island in the Pacific Northwest is interrupted by Whitney's arrival. Phoebe's 21-year-old daughter, Laurienne, learns for the first time about her mother's relationship with the now-famous director, who may be her real father. Coburn (Remembering Jody) mishandles the mother-daughter conflict by attempting to equate it with Phoebe's own mother keeping secret the family's history at Auschwitz, but the comparison doesn't ever line up. The familiar melodrama is further marred by overwrought prose ("When she slammed the door, Phoebe heard the crash of shattered trust"), driving Coburn's story into camp territory. (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
When a former lover returns to the remote Puget Sound island where she lives, Phoebe, a fortysomething single mother of a grown daughter, finds her life in turmoil. She is haunted by memories of her relationship with Whit Traynor, which began when Phoebe was a teenager and Whit a radio DJ she admired. As Phoebe flashes back to trace her past, the reader is at first as seduced by Whit as Phoebe was. Eventually, though, Whit is shown to be a destructive force in her life, with the power to control her and lead her to bad decisions. Coburn packs the book with rather obvious metaphors and symbolism; instead of trusting the reader to get a point, she explains it in bald prose. Nevertheless, Phoebe's journey to self-fulfillment is a moving one readers will understand, and the Pacific Northwest setting is atmospheric and believably drawn. Recommended for regional collections and larger public libraries.-Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Coburn's beautifully realized second novel is a perceptive assessment of what women do in love. Beautiful, strong-willed Phoebe, owner of a fish-net company, lives an agreeable life on a Puget Sound island. Her daughter Laurienne works in Seattle writing computer code, and artist Ivan, long-time friend, now lover, lives a few houses down the road. A satisfying existence, but over the course of the novel, Phoebe begins to realize hers has been a guarded life since her affair with Whit Traynor decades ago. And the reason for this fresh evaluation: A new neighbor has moved in, the now-famous director Whitney Traynor, with young wife Jasmine in tow. His appearance sends Phoebe reeling back to her enshrined memories of their relationship, the watershed moment of Phoebe's life. As a precocious teenager in 1960s Seattle, Phoebe became entranced by a local radio deejay, the charismatic Whit, who seemed to be speaking directly to Phoebe. She wrote him smart, seductive letters, filled with whimsy and innuendo, and he replied in turn, the two never meeting until Phoebe turned 18. Phoebe proudly worked on Whit's first feature film (suitably about artist's muse Kiki de Montparnasse), and while he credits Phoebe for inspiration, she did much of the work. When the two split up-a messy affair of cheating and rebound romances-Phoebe is pregnant and unsure if Whit is the father. Coburn smartly reveals only the Whit that young Phoebe sees-stylish, brilliantly idiosyncratic and in love. Not until later does middle-aged Phoebe (and the reader) perceive an altogether different Whit, unprotected by the flush of youth. Now Phoebe guardedly hopes that Whit is still in love with her. Why would he move to theisland? Why would he call Jasmine a replacement Phoebe? And who else but Whit could have sent her all those magical gifts-a handful of rubies, a hummingbird's nest-through the years? This sad fantasy of true love reunited soon gives way to Phoebe gaining some hard-earned insight about her own willingness to hide in someone's shadow. A richly conceived portrait of memory and identity.

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Random House Publishing Group
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Meet the Author

Randy Sue Coburn is a former newspaper reporter whose articles and essays have been published in numerous national magazines. She is the author of Remembering Jody, a first novel hailed by Booklist as “a wry and compassionate emotional roller coaster from a master storyteller,” and her screenplays include Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, the critically acclaimed Cannes Film Festival selection that received five Independent Spirit Award nominations, including Best Screenplay. She lives in Seattle and teaches writing at the University of Washington.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Owl Island 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a richly textured, emotional novel full of humor and heart. I loved all the characters, how different and varied they were, but I especially loved Phoebe, and kept putting off the novel because I knew how much I would miss her when I was done. I found the writing evocative and lush.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Too many drugs, too many trips down memory lane, too many weird sex scenes. The only good thing that I can say about this book is that the writer captures Whidbey Island and the Seattle area quite nicely. All of the characters completely annoyed me. I have a B.A. in English and was disappointed that a U.W. Prof. wrote this....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Expected a predictable love story. Had a lot of unpredictable events that made it really interesting. Definately worth a read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had a difficult time getting started with this book, but once I got into it, I couldn't put it down. I loved the details about the area, although I didn't research them to confirm their accuracy. I am from the Chico area, so it was a thrill for me to hear tidbits about Chico and Chico State in the book. Since I have been in a relationship with someone like Whitney, I felt an affinity with Phoebe. I look forward to reading another book by this author.