The Land of Mango Sunsets LP: A Novel

Overview

Dorothea Benton Frank writes highly addictive tales of life's conundrums with hilarity and heat. Meet Miriam Elizabeth Swanson, in a full-blown snit, buoyed by a fabulous cast that runs the gamut from insufferable to wonderful. First is the arrival of Liz Harper, Miriam's tenant from Birmingham, who sets a new cycle in motion. Her other tenant, Kevin, stalwart companion with more style than Cary Grant, shakes Miriam out of her fog to see which battles are worth the fight. Then there's Miriam's estranged son, who ...

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Overview

Dorothea Benton Frank writes highly addictive tales of life's conundrums with hilarity and heat. Meet Miriam Elizabeth Swanson, in a full-blown snit, buoyed by a fabulous cast that runs the gamut from insufferable to wonderful. First is the arrival of Liz Harper, Miriam's tenant from Birmingham, who sets a new cycle in motion. Her other tenant, Kevin, stalwart companion with more style than Cary Grant, shakes Miriam out of her fog to see which battles are worth the fight. Then there's Miriam's estranged son, who announces he's marrying a Jamaican woman. And what about her ex-husband, Charles, and that sordid lingerie model of his? Finally, you'll laugh and cry when Miriam meets a man named Harrison who changes her into a gal named Mellie.

Miriam spins out from the revolving door of her postured life as a Manhattan quasi-socialite while she thirsts, no, starves for recognition. It takes a few spins, dips, and one spectacular fall until Miriam gets her head on straight. Then in a whoosh she's off to the enchanted and mysterious land of Sullivans Island, deep in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

Told straight from the heart in Frank's vivid, highly entertaining style, The Land of Mango Sunsets just might be her finest work to date. If you decide to read this book, don't make plans to do anything else for a while.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

A middle-aged woman's self-discovery is predictable but not pedestrian in Frank's (Full of Grace; Pawleys Island) latest. A divorce has stalled Miriam Swanson's life: her snooty Hermès-swathed Manhattan friends abandoned her after her ex-husband "ran off with his whore"; one of her grown sons keeps her at arm's length, while her other son, a "nice nerd," stays beneath the family radar for months at a time; and the major drawback to her job at a museum is her boss—icy former friend Agnes Willis. In a twist that stretches disbelief, Miriam catches Agnes's husband, Truman, having a noisy rendezvous with Liz, the cute new tenant in Miriam's townhouse. After a brief interlude that sends Miriam to a South Carolina barrier island to visit her former cotillion queen mother—and meet the dreamy local Harrison Ford ("Not that wimpy actor")—Miriam reveals Truman's affair, with consequences that fuel the remainder of the book. Frank's narrative is heavy on healing—physically, mentally—and the importance of family, and though her sometimes delightfully nasty heroine is sympathetic, supporting cast members have one note apiece. This isn't Frank's finest, but it'll sate her fans. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Even Miriam Elizabeth Swanson's mother describes her as a fussbudget who is stubborn, unrealistic in her expectations of others, and a prig. Here she gets to tell her own story of life as a lonely divorcée estranged from her grown sons, living in New York City with a gay tenant and an African Gray parrot, and begging for assignments on charity committees. On a visit to the family cottage on Sullivan's Island in South Carolina, she is shocked by her socialite mother's new hippie lifestyle of growing organic vegetables, raising goats and chickens, and no longer dying her hair. But it takes an accident and an act of violence to force Miriam to alter her own life, which means returning to the island to learn to relax and love again. New York Timesbest-selling author Frank (Sullivan's Island) uses a great deal of humor to tell the story of a woman desperate for change and paints beautiful word pictures of the Low Country. Although some of the characters are stereotypes and others are not fleshed out enough, this is still a memorable book that should be in all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ1/07.]
—Lesa M. Holstine

Kirkus Reviews
In Frank's chatty latest (after Isle of Palms, 2003, etc.), a high-strung New York divorcee at loose ends changes her life for the better after getting in touch with her South Carolina roots. Miriam Swanson has spent her entire life playing by the rules, and what has it got her? Husband Charles left to marry and raise children with his longtime mistress; Miriam barely speaks to her two grown sons. At least she has a lovely Manhattan townhouse, though she's dismayed to learn that her new tenant, pretty southern transplant Liz, is sleeping with the husband of powerful society doyenne Agnes Willis, who's been condescending to Miriam for years. Aching for a change, Miriam flies off for a weekend at the family beach house on Sullivan's Island, lush location of many good memories. Her mother, the radiant Miss Josie, introduces her to an attractive retired banker named, of all things, Harrison Ford. Harrison dubs her "Mellie" and there is a palpable chemistry between the two, who are about the same age. But Miriam worries that he might actually be her mother's boy toy, especially after she catches them smoking weed together. Back in New York, an ugly confrontation with nasty Mrs. Willis provokes Miriam to spill the beans about Mr. Willis's affair. This has disastrous results for Liz, who is badly beaten by her creepy paramour. Guilt-ridden Miriam takes the battered girl to Sullivan's Island to convalesce. Meanwhile, she takes steps to get closer to her sons. She even offers to plan the wedding of Charlie and his Jamaican longtime girlfriend Priscilla. All this leads up, perhaps too quickly, to reconciliations, romance and even a sad goodbye. Scattered, but warming female-empowerment tale with aside order of southern magic.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061259289
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/10/2007
  • Edition description: Large Print Edition
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 776,860
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

New York Times bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank was born and raised on Sullivans Island, South Carolina. She divides her time between the New York area and the Lowcountry.

Biography

An author who has helped to put the South Carolina Lowcountry on the literary map, Dorothea Benton Frank hasn't always lived near the ocean, but the Sullivan's Island native has a powerful sense of connection to her birthplace. Even after marrying a New Yorker and settling in New Jersey, she returned to South Carolina regularly for visits, until her mother died and she and her siblings had to sell their family home. "It was very upsetting," she told the Raleigh News & Observer. "Suddenly, I couldn't come back and walk into my mother's house. I was grieving."

After her mother's death, writing down her memories of home was a private, therapeutic act for Frank. But as her stack of computer printouts grew, she began to try to shape them into a novel. Eventually a friend introduced her to the novelist Fern Michaels, who helped her polish her manuscript and find an agent for it.

Published in 2000, Frank's first "Lowcountry tale," Sullivan's Island made it to the New York Times bestseller list. Its quirky characters and tangled family relationships drew comparisons to the works of fellow southerners Anne Rivers Siddons and Pat Conroy (both of whom have provided blurbs for Frank's books). But while Conroy's novels are heavily angst-ridden, Frank sweetens her dysfunctional family tea with humor and a gabby, just-between-us-girls tone. To her way of thinking, there's a gap between serious literary fiction and standard beach-blanket fare that needs to be filled.

"I don't always want to read serious fiction," Frank explained to The Sun News of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. "But when I read fiction that's not serious, I don't want to read brain candy. Entertain me, for God's sake." Since her debut, she has faithfully followed her own advice, entertaining thousands of readers with books Pat Conroy calls "hilarious and wise" and characters Booklist describes as "sassy and smart,."

These days, Frank has a house of her own on Sullivan's Island, where she spends part of each year. "The first thing I do when I get there is take a walk on the beach," she admits. Evidently, this transplanted Lowcountry gal is staying in touch with her soul.

Good To Know

Before she started writing, Frank worked as a fashion buyer in New York City. She is also a nationally recognized volunteer fundraiser for the arts and education, and an advocate of literacy programs and women's issues.

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Read an Excerpt

The Land of Mango Sunsets

A Novel
By Dorothea Benton Frank

William Morrow

Copyright © 2007 Dorothea Benton Frank
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-089238-8


Chapter One

Manhattan-Some Time Ago

Dear Ms. O'Hara, Your father was such a lovely man and this tragic loss will be felt by everyone who knew him for years to come. In my mind's eye, I can still see him cleaning my grill with a vengeance. That man surely did love a clean grill. Please accept my deepest and most sincere condolences. There is the small matter of his rent for the month of January. Not wanting to be an additional burden at this terribly sensitive time, I will simply deduct it from his security deposit. Although I am loath to broach this subject, I must notify you that the timely removal of his personal property will obviously impact the amount of money I am able to return to you. Once again, please accept my profound sympathy. Cordially, Miriam Elizabeth Swanson

Making my way across Sixty-first Street, I checked that the stamp was secure and slipped the envelope in a mailbox. The weather was fast changing from cold and damp to a bone-chilling arctic freeze. My snow boots were tucked in my PBS member's canvas tote bag, just in case. I knew it was not very chic to be traipsing around Manhattan with a canvas tote bag. But the proud logo sent amessage to all those people who enjoyed the benefits of Public Television but felt no compunction to support it even with the smallest of donations. The fact that people took without giving irked me. On the brighter side, I had always thought it would be great fun to be a volunteer in their phone bank during a campaign, to sit up there doing something so worthwhile as hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people, looked on. I had submitted my name as a candidate for the job many times, but I had never been called. Perhaps I should have sent them a more thorough bio with a more flattering photograph. Something youthful. Ah, me. Another disappointment. Another rejection. But what member of the human race didn't have unfulfilled little fantasies? Chin up, Miriam, I told myself, and trudged on.

The weather continued to deteriorate and Charles Dickens himself would have agreed that it was a perfect day for a funeral. Bulbous gray clouds lowered toward the earth and covered every inch of the sky. They were closing in and threatening to burst. It would surely pour snow or sleet at any moment. There was nothing I could do about the weather or my feelings of gloom brought on by a claustrophobic sky. After all these years in New York, I was as resigned to winter as I was to any number of things that fed my love/hate relationship with the city. Anyway, where else was I to go? Live with my sons? No way. Live with my mother? Not in a million years.

I adjusted my muffler to protect my cheeks. At least I had written Ms. O'Hara a note, and despite the inclement conditions, I had been sure to get it in the mail. I couldn't help but pause to think there was something so lazy about people who abandoned fountain pens or pens of any kind in favor of the expeditiousness of e-mail on any and every occasion. Including expressions of sympathy. Believe it or not, I actually heard a story of someone receiving an e-mail telling of a close friend's death. Including a frowning emoticon, God save us. The reason I remember was that it was so completely absurd to me. And speaking of fountain pens, they now had a disposable variety available at all those office-supply chain stores, which to me defeated the purpose of using a fountain pen in the first place. Wasn't it about holding a beautiful object in your hands and feeling its solid weight? Its worth and the importance of its history? Remember when penmanship was taught in the classroom and its beautiful execution was prized?

But that is what the world has come to. Quick this and disposable that. To my dying day, I would remain a lonely standard-bearer in a world that continued to toss aside every inch of civility we have ever known. Handwritten notes seemed to have gone the way of corsages-their existence was rare. It just was the way it was.

I hurried along to the funeral service, tiptoeing inside the church and finding my seat next to my dearest friend and other tenant, Kevin Dolan.

"I have always loved St. Bartholomew's," I whispered to him. I removed my coat and gloves and, as inconspicuously as possible, settled in the pew. The service had already begun and I regretted the fact that I was late, even if it was only by a few minutes. In the steamer trunk of middle age, folded, packed, and wrinkled with one physical and emotional insult after another, perimenopause had delivered a measure of intolerance, even toward myself.

"Me, too," Kevin whispered back, and sighed. "Poor Mr. O'Hara. Whoever thought he would just drop dead on the crosstown bus? Just like that! Poof. Gone." He popped his wrist in front of him in a gesture that equated Mr. O'Hara's death with a magician's now you see it, now you don't!

"Hush," whispered someone in front of us.

We paused in silence in deference to the occasion and then couldn't resist continuing our recap of the fragile nature of life in the Big Apple. That was the effect Kevin always had on me. In his presence I became a young gossiping washwoman, emphasis on young.

"Pockets picked and ID stolen," I added at a carefully calibrated low volume of clear displeasure. "Disgusting!"

"Five days in the city morgue? Dreadful! If I hadn't called his family ..."

"He's lucky he wasn't eaten by rats. Thank heavens for dental records ..."

"Who could believe he went to a dentist with his snaggleteeth?" Kevin said.

"Please. He was my ..." said the woman in front of us, her shoulders racking with sobs.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Land of Mango Sunsets by Dorothea Benton Frank Copyright © 2007 by Dorothea Benton Frank. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

ABOUT: Dorothea Benton Frank is one of America's most insightful writers, weaving highly addictive tales of the conundrums of life with hilarity and heat. In The Land of Mango Sunsets, she tells the story of one woman's journey to happiness in a tale about appearances, pride, friendship, family, and love. Her message is simple: a truly joyous life comes with a generous heart.

Miriam Elizabeth Swanson knows a great deal about penning the perfect thank you note, but little about acceptance and self-satisfaction. Divorced by a two-timing horse's ass of a husband who dropped her for a younger number, she's buoyed by a fabulous cast who run the gamut from insufferable to wonderful. There are the tenants who share her townhouse to make ends meet: Kevin, her stalwart companion with more style than Cary Grant, and Liz Harper, a young woman who is about to set Miriam's life in an unexpected cycle of motion. There is Harry, her African gray parrot who has plenty of opinions—and shares them all. There are her estranged sons, one a computer geek in California, and the other who announces he's marrying a Jamaican woman. There is her iconoclastic mother, Miss Josie, with her chickens and her pet goat Cecilia. And there is a man named Harrison Ford (not the movie star) who changes Miriam into a gal named Mellie.

Miriam spins out from the revolving door of her postured life as a Manhattan quasi-socialite, thirsting—or rather starving—for recognition and respect. How did her life become a shadow of what she thought it would be? How did she become so distant from her beloved sons? How did she become what she hates the most, and what does she endure to realize it?

It takes a few spins, dips, and one spectacular fall—and a return to the enchanted land of Sullivans Island, deep in the Lowcountry of South Carolina—until Miriam gets her head on straight .

Questions for Discussion

QUESTION: 1. At the beginning of the novel, Miriam is desperate to be accepted among the society set and their opinions mean a great deal to her. Does she care too much about other people's judgments? How has this affected her life?

2. When Miriam needs solace she returns to Sullivans Island—the "land of mango sunsets". What does the place do for her? Do you have a healing retreat? What kind of a special place would you like to have if you don't?

3. The novel's heroine transforms herself from "Miriam Elizabeth Swanson" to "Mellie." How do these two personalities compare and contrast with one another? What do you like about them? Do you see yourself in either?

4. Weather and nature are an important backdrop in the novel. How do they reflect Miriam's transformation?

5. What is the relationship like between Miriam and her mother, Miss Josie? How are the women alike—and how are the different? How do parents impact their children's lives?

6. Friendship and family are the cornerstones of The Land of Mango Sunsets. What makes a good friend? What makes people "family"?

7. When Liz's relationship turns violent and she is terribly hurt, Miriam blames herself. Why does she feel responsible? Was she to blame?

8. Miriam did not know her mother was ill until very late. Why do you think Miss Josie and Harrison didn't tell her?

9. In the prologue, Miriam says "Recognizing yourself in my mistakes won't be pretty, but perhaps it will keep both of us from making the same mistakes again." Can we learn from others' mistakes or do we have to make our own to truly learn life's lessons?

10. Miriam also says "Things happen for a reason." Do you agree?

11. What role Miriam's fling with "Manny the Man" play in the novel? Though it didn't end quite how she expected, was it ultimately good for her?

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2007

    A reviewer

    This was one of her best. I couldn't put down. Great for the beach.

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