Acclaimed novelist and nationally recognized family expert Lynne Griffin returns with Sea Escape—an emotional, beautifully imagined story inspired by the author’s family letters about the ties that bind mothers and daughters.
Laura Martinez is wedged in the middle place, grappling with her busy life as a nurse, wife, and devoted mom to her two young children when her estranged mother, Helen, suffers a devastating stroke. In a desperate attempt to lure her mother into choosing life, Laura goes to Sea Escape, the pristine beach home that Helen took refuge in after the death of her beloved husband, Joseph. There, Laura hunts for the legendary love letters her father wrote to her mother when he served as a reporter for the Associated Press during wartime Vietnam.
Believing the beauty and sway of her father’s words will have the power to heal, Laura reads the letters bedside to her mother, a woman who once spoke the language of fabric—of Peony Sky in Jade and Paradise Garden Sage—but who can’t or won’t speak to her now. As Laura delves deeper into her tangled family history, she becomes increasingly determined to save her mother. As each letter reveals a patchwork detail of her parents’ marriage, she discovers a common thread: a secret that mother and daughter unknowingly share.
Weaving back and forth from Laura’s story to her mother’s, beginning in the idyllic 1950s with Helen’s love affair with Joseph through the tumultuous Vietnam War period on to the present, Sea Escape takes a gratifying look at what women face in their everyday lives—the balancing act of raising capable and happy children and being accomplished and steadfast wives while still being gracious and good daughters. It is a story that opens the door to family secrets so gripping, you won’t be able to put this book down until each is revealed.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Lynne Griffin is the author of the novels Sea Escape and Life Without Summer, and the nonfiction parenting guide, Negotiation Generation. Her third novel, The Last Resort, will be published by Simon & Schuster in fall 2012. She lives outside Boston with her family. Visit her online at www.LynneGriffin.com.
Read an Excerpt
Letters are windows casting light, illuminating the ties between two people. I could’ve sneaked a peek inside my parents’ romance by reading his letters to her, but I respected my mother’s love of curtains. At forty-five, the details of their marriage remained a mystery to me; I had no desire to confirm what I already knew. Even dead, she loved him more than me. My mother spent her days drenched in memories of safe arms and sweet music, reading his precious words, faded ink on yellowed stationery. I looked for ghosts around corners, certain I was running out of time to find a way to be enough for her. An inability to live in the present was one thing we had in common.
“Are you okay in there, Mother?” Well aware she startled at loud noises, I knocked lightly on the door nearest the driveway. No answer. By the fourth rap, I couldn’t stop myself, I was pounding.
The first pinprick of worry jabbed me as I wondered if this was the day I’d find my mother dead in her double bed, cold, even though she was covered by her wedding quilt of interlocking green and pink floral circles. Juggling two grocery bags and reminding the kids to stop at the end of the boardwalk leading to Anaskaket Beach, I jiggled the lock, but she’d bolted and double-bolted the place as if Sea Escape sat on a main street in the city instead of on waterfront acreage south of Boston.
“Henry, will you run around back and peek in the window? See if Nana’s in her chair. She probably can’t hear us.”
“Mommy, I have to go to the bathroom,” Claire said as she cupped her mittened hands down low, crossing her legs at the knees.
“Yes, honey. I know, I know. Didn’t I tell you to go before we left?”
As soon as I gave Henry permission to run, he was off. And as soon as he was out of view, I regretted asking him to help. What if my mother had slipped on her bathrobe and tumbled to the bottom of those twisting, turning stairs? For once I hoped he would be lured from me by the dunes he loved so much. Who lets a ten-year-old do a grown-up’s job? I should be the one to find her lying there, arms and legs akimbo. I should be the one to tend to her shattered hip or broken pride.
I dropped the bags filled with baking supplies and birthday gifts down on a lonely Adirondack. Digging in my knapsack for her keys, I cursed myself, and the ocean like a jackal jeered at me, pitching its sea spray the distance from shoreline to wraparound porch, chiding me for leaving her keys at home. The last time I’d let myself in, she’d lectured me for twenty minutes about her right to privacy, reminding me I didn’t live there anymore.
Worry stalled when everyone shouted at once.
“I have to pee.”
“She’s not there.”
“It’s far too oily for all this commotion. Can’t you people hold your houses?”
I remained silent as my mother admonished me through the barricade of a door; the only sound I made came from a breath of fresh relief. Lock after lock clacked—one, two, three—and the door creaked opened. The frail woman who was forever giving me a glimpse into my future stood at the entrance, her slight frame no match for the breadth of the grand room she’d once shared—and in a way still did—with my father. Her beloved Joseph.
Claire kicked off her shoes and scrambled past her grandmother, heading toward the bathroom. My mother reprimanded my five-year-old with a commanding whisper. “No running.”
Even wearing a flannel robe, her wavy bed hair dancing, my mother was intimidating. Beyond those scolding, dark eyes, she was as pretty as ever. Smooth skin, patrician nose, her face the shape of a valentine. If only she didn’t wear her unhappiness like an unflattering dress.
I grabbed the bags off the porch chair and placed them on the inside bench. “You don’t look a day over sixty,” I said, trying to start the visit over. I hung my parka in the front hall closet, ignoring her curious accessories: the legendary strand of pearls and a pair of flat black dress shoes. My tact over her mismatched getup didn’t stop her from staring at my lazy one.
“You worked,” she said.
Neither a question nor a conversation starter, my mother’s simple statement was intent on drawing attention to either my job, which she didn’t appreciate, or to the fact that I’d forgotten to change out of my uniform. I placed one hand on my chest, remembering that while I’d rushed to finish writing progress notes in my babies’ charts, a sleep-deprived intern bumped into me at the nurses’ station. Coffee sloshed, dotting the front of my scrubs. It mixed with the formula splotches burped up on me by Baby Boy Forsythe, a child I silently called Seth. Looking worse than usual after my twelve-hour shift in the newborn nursery, I’d made a mental note to change, but when I got home, the current that drags me through my life whisked me away from my need for clean jeans and a warm sweater. No time for Laura to shower. Christian was in a rush to get to the Magnolia town meeting, where his design pitch for the park renovation was the only item on the agenda. Henry and Claire kept at me to hurry. It was Nana’s birthday after all, we shouldn’t be late.
I didn’t tell them there was no real reason to rush. Duncan Hines and three meager gifts did not a gala make. My mother’s seventy-seventh birthday would be celebrated at home. Our party of four would dine seaside.
“Hey, Nana. Happy birthday!” Henry came out of nowhere, wrapping both arms around her trim waist. If she hadn’t been holding on to the door, she may well have been laid out flat.
My arrival hadn’t unpursed my mother’s lips, but Henry’s happy-go-lucky entrance charmed a smile right out of her. My brother’s rare appearances would have too, though I couldn’t recall a single time when Holden hugged her like that. I would’ve bet money he hadn’t picked up the phone to wish her happy birthday either, but I didn’t dare bring up the subject of Holden. It mystified me how a man responsible for trying big cases couldn’t remember to call his own mother. For her sake, I should’ve reminded him.
“Easy, honey. You almost knocked her over. Take off your shoes. You know the rules.”
“I didn’t mean to.” The hurt in Henry’s voice should’ve moved me to compassion. If only I’d looked at his face first, I might have seen his quivering chin and misty eyes. His uncombed hair with its cheerful cowlick and his shirt buttoned unevenly would’ve reminded me. Being inside Sea Escape, with its lush carpets and fine fabrics, each with its own name, overwhelmed Henry. He was an outdoor boy.
My mother closed her eyes briefly, using the door to find her balance. “I’m fine. He’s excited is all.”
I gave him a look, motioning for him to grab a bag and carry it to the kitchen, where I started to unload things.
“I’m going to go watch TV in Nana’s room.” He tried to duck out of helping me, though at least this time he knew enough not to ask to play on the beach alone. We were there to spend time with his grandmother.
“Not right now, I need help putting these away. I’m tired from work.” I handed him a jar of preserves and a package of English muffins.
My mother followed us into the kitchen area. She stood behind the butcher block island, gripping the edge as she watched. The first sigh came when I pulled a quart of chocolate milk from one bag. I knew how she felt about Claire’s refusal to drink regular milk and about me for giving in to my daughter’s finicky habits. She drummed the fingers of her right hand on the counter, something I did when my hand fell asleep. Something she did whenever I annoyed her. She sighed again when Henry pulled a bunch of bananas from one bag.
“For heaven’s sake, I’m not a chimpanzee,” she spoke under her breath. “I’ll be back,” she said. “I’m going to finish dressing.”
I perked up and shouted “great” a little loud, relieved that her outfit was interrupted, not intentional.
Watching her travel in slow motion through the large room, which included her oversized and underused kitchen, her elegant living and dining areas—my mother was a pioneer of the open floor plan—I realized there was something else we had in common. Morning, with all its to-dos, was daunting to both of us. I grew more exhausted the more I stood still; she, the more she moved.
I shouldn’t have agreed to take the extra shift in the nursery. Saturdays were reserved for my mother. But when one of the other nurses wore her marital status like a name tag, pleading with me to take her Friday night so she could go out on a date, all I had to do was think about a temp in the nursery trying to cope with those sixteen infants, and the word no couldn’t slip from my lips. Three hours after shift change, twenty hours since the last time I’d laid my head down, I was pulling cake mix and eggs from a shopping bag, hunting down pans in a cavernous cupboard, and preheating an oven I was afraid to get dirty. By the time I made the cake, cooled it, frosted it, and served it, I’d be asleep standing up.
All I wanted to do was sneak by my mother up those stairs, so I could climb into her bed and pull the covers over my head. Christian warned me that baking a cake with the kids at my mother’s was trying to do too much. Never mind that she might not live to see another birthday after the stress I’d cause by making a mess of her kitchen. I had to remind myself this was her day and celebrating it wasn’t about what was convenient for me. Besides, Christian knew as well as I did that a store-bought cake might well have saved time, but it would be served up with sighs and eye rolls. I could almost hear my mother saying, Doesn’t anyone make anything with their own hands anymore?
“I should help her,” Henry said as he watched his grandmother place her hand on the sturdier of the two banisters.
She couldn’t possibly have heard him from that distance, yet without turning around, she called for him.
“Joey, come, come. Give me a hand. I’ll freshen up, and you can take care of a few things for me upstairs.”
Henry looked at me, his expression a request for approval. I wanted to remind her his name was Henry. Instead I did nothing but nod, wishing she would’ve asked me for help.
He ran to her. My mother’s shoulders tensed as both of Henry’s feet hit the first step with a clomp.
“Nana, can you show me how—”
“Hush now. Remember where you are, young man,” my mother said.
When Claire returned from the bathroom, she interrupted what was likely the beginning of a sermon on indoor versus outdoor behavior. It was as though my daughter had never been in a hurry. I knew she didn’t have an accident, because she’s as fastidious as her father. Had one drop landed on her pants, she’d be insisting we go home to change. Thank God for young muscles and small miracles.
Claire plopped down in the middle of the living room next to the perfectly packed backpack she’d placed there. Out came Josefina, the Latin doll that came into the family as a result of one of my mother’s good days. Before Christmas, she’d told me to buy the girl one of those ethnic dolls, one she’d seen in a catalog. She thought my daughter would like a doll that looked like her. Claire adjusted Josefina’s fiesta dress and white stockings as if she were our fifth party guest. While Henry had a way of misplacing things like homework and time, library books and purpose—or anything else he needed to remember in favor of what lay before him—Claire was as neat as my childhood home.
As a gift for my mother, Christian forced a collection of amaryllis bulbs, arranging them in a terra-cotta planter. While I waited for Henry and my mother to come back down, I positioned the flowers on the table by her wing chair, next to the morning Gazette. I read the headline—CHILD OF STAR REUNITES WITH HER FAMILY—then turned the paper facedown, thinking maybe I could buy time before hearing my mother’s familiar lament: If your father still wrote for the paper, tabloid news would never take the place of war reporting. My eyes shifted to the chair beside the table and the envelope and letter abandoned there. She must have been lost in it until I pulled her back to the present with my banging. I knew I shouldn’t pick them up. I wanted to look away from his words, but I couldn’t stop myself.
My dearest Helen,
I don’t know how to tell you this
“Mom! When can I make the cake?”
I ripped a corner of the envelope’s flap when Claire startled me. Folding the letter, I placed it back inside. Addressed to Mrs. Helen Tobin, postmarked September 1966, the letter was sent to her the year after I was born. I ran my hand over the penny stamps, wondering why they were affixed upside down. Smoothing it out the best I could, I laid it on the side table where she usually kept it. I got an uneasy feeling after I’d put it away. I didn’t want her to think I’d read it.
“We might have to go buy one, honey,” I said. “Nana doesn’t have any pans.”
“I want to bake. We can go get our pans and come back here to make it.” Claire was a master at voicing her opinions and good at offering up solutions. I envied my daughter for being better at both than her mother.
“We’ll see,” I said, brushing a wisp of hair off her forehead. “I’ll ask Nana what she wants us to do.” Neither choice appealed to me since both required me to get back in the car and drive when all I wanted to do was curl up on the sofa.
Arranging the brightly wrapped gifts on the coffee table, I second-guessed Henry’s present to my mother. A beginner’s book on sewing didn’t seem right, but he’d ordered it through his school’s book club and paid for it with his own money. He’d insisted she would love it. I didn’t have the heart to tell him she wouldn’t. I remember the exact date my mother stopped creating her works of art. Henry’s childish gift wouldn’t be powerful enough to persuade Helen Elisabeth Tobin to begin again.
Just as I started to worry she was taking too long, I heard a thud come from the floor above me. I made for the stairs, but before my foot hit the first step, my mother appeared at the top landing. I should’ve guessed the source of the noise: Henry. My mother, more appropriately dressed in slacks and a boiled wool jacket, seized the railing and made her way toward me.
“Why don’t I run up and get you another pair of shoes?” I asked. “Those soles can be very slippery.” Her flats couldn’t have been any safer than Henry’s stocking feet on her polished hardwood.
“Stop fretting, Laura. I’m perfectly capable of choosing good hose. Now what’s this about my cake?”
If she grumbled about my lack of preparation and planning, birthday or no birthday, I’d blame her. For years now, Sea Escape appraised higher on form than on function.
“I’m having trouble finding what I need,” I said brightly, covering up my annoyance the best I could. “If you want, I could make a quick trip to my house for pans or pick up a cake at the bakery.”
I wasn’t surprised when I presented my mother with our options and they elicited a complaint about Mass. No matter what topic we started out discussing, she and I would land in church.
“Either way, at this pace, I’ll miss the four-thirty,” she said, looking at her watch.
“Maybe I could—”
She looked me up and down. “I don’t suppose you were planning on going,” she said. “Never mind. Father McNamara says the ten on Sunday. I’ll go tomorrow.”
Claire insisted we make the cake, which made it easier for me to convince her to come with me to get pans. I decided Henry could stay at Sea Escape to keep my mother company. Ever since I’d left him there the day of the hospital Christmas party, they’d shared a stronger connection, moving in close to whisper, smiling at each other. No scowls or smirks between those two. A little over a month ago, during one of our regular Saturday visits, he’d complained he was too old to visit Santa, and my mother had surprisingly offered to watch him so I could bring Claire. How could it be that my baby boy no longer believed in fairy tales?
So with eyes wide open and the car windows rolled all the way down to force a stay-awake cross breeze, I made my way from her house to mine for cake pans. The ten-minute drive from Anaskaket to Magnolia became a twenty-minute detour, jammed with ripped-up roads and slow-moving pedestrians; even a portable radar sign challenged my need for speed.
Once inside my house, I went as fast as my weary body would go. I grabbed the pans from under the stove and a clean sweatshirt from the laundry basket hidden behind the couch.
Back in the car, birds were chirping. I thought my lack of sleep was getting the better of me until I saw Claire playing with my cell. Once again she’d changed my ring tone.
“How many times have I told you not to touch things that don’t belong to you? My phone is not a toy.”
After crossly ordering her to get back in her booster seat, I threw the pans and my sweatshirt on the passenger seat. Missing, they landed on the floor with a muffled thud. When Claire held out the phone to me and started to cry, I felt guilty for being a shrew. In seconds, her red face and frightened look told me she wasn’t upset with me for yelling.
“Henry said to hurry. Nana fell down. She’s acting funny.”
I didn’t know what Claire meant when she parroted Henry. When I took the phone from her, the call had been lost. “Tell me exactly what he said. Honey, try to remember.” Turning away from me, Claire clutched Josefina and stared out the window. I could see there was no point in pressing her.
No longer could I convince myself that my mother’s earlier verbal hiccups meant nothing. I couldn’t write them off as the results of a lousy night’s sleep or her advancing age. Her choice to walk up the wrong side of the stairs had nothing to do with a loose handrail. Looking back over the morning, each symptom was a flashing light, collective warning signs of trouble that should’ve tickled my nurse’s instincts. Yet I’d been a visiting daughter.
Finally the day I’d feared would come had a date. It was her birthday when I got the call. Never once did I think Claire would take it from Henry. On one of my more optimistic days, I imagined my mother accepting me reaching out to her. She’d forgive the sins she believed belonged to me. Or, maybe so tired of being alone, she’d admit to needing me. Mostly I dreaded coming upon her in one of her treasured rooms at Sea Escape, sprawled on an Oriental rug or collapsed across the damask sofa, and it would be too late to make things right.
For most of my life, I’d been consumed with worries of how I might lose my mother completely. I had no way of knowing she was in the process of being found.
Driving back to Anaskaket, I was wide awake.
© 2010 lynne griffin
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Sea Escape includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Lynne Griffin. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Lynne Griffin’s second novel is a thoughtful, deeply moving look at the complicated love between a mother and daughter. Helen and Laura are different women of different eras; a mother and daughter alienated from one another yet bonded by love and loss. Laura grows up in the shadow of her parents’ love, and when her father dies, it’s as though she’s lost both parents. For Helen, the only way to cope with her grief is to retreat into the decades old love letters from her husband Joseph, the ones she’s kept private from her children. When Helen has a sudden and devastating stroke, Laura’s world is turned upside down. Now a mother herself, she must juggle her mother’s care with her nursing career and the needs of her own family. Laura is willing to do whatever it takes to bring her mother back to health and so she goes to Sea Escape to search for the letters, hidden somewhere in her parents’ dream home by the sea. Along with the letters, Laura finds secrets and lies filling the space between each line written. She uncovers the patchwork details of her parents’ marriage, discovering a common thread: a secret that mother and daughter unknowingly share.
TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. In Sea Escape we are presented with three very different pictures of marriage: Maggie and Lee, Helen and Joseph, and Laura and Christian. Are there any similarities among these marriages? How does each woman's marriage shape her life and affect her relationships with her children?
2. Laura and Helen have an estranged relationship, even though they still see each other often. What does it mean to be estranged from someone? How does it differ physically and emotionally?
3. We see Helen and Laura in the roles of both mother and daughter. How does each woman’s relationship with her mother differ from and influence the relationship she has with her children?
4. Helen never seems to forgive her father for all he put her and her mother through. Why do you think she’s able to forgive Joseph his transgressions but not her father’s? Do you believe she really forgave Joseph?
5. On page 210, rather than explaining to her mother what really happened at the clinic, Laura says, "Go ahead, hate me. I deserve it." Why does Laura think she deserves to be hated? Why is it so hard for her to tell her mother a truth that it seems would only make things better between them?
6. Mourning is a theme throughout the book. How does each character grieve differently? In what ways can mourning be a selfish experience? What do the characters mourn besides the loss of a loved one?
7. Discuss the contrast between Helen's ability to accept other children into her home and Joseph's struggle to love Holden as his own son. Do you think it’s easier for Helen to open her heart than it is for Joseph, and if so, why?
8. Why do you think Helen reads Joseph’s letters over and over again? Do you think it’s comfort that she finds in them? Or is she looking for something else?
9. What does Joseph’s office symbolize? Why do you think Helen finally feels ready to change it?
10. Helen had never been able to share the pain of her miscarriages with Laura. What do you think it says about Laura that she told Henry and Claire about losing baby Lee?
11. Each pair of siblings in the book includes a brother and a sister: Holden and Laura, and Henry and Claire. How do you think it would have changed the story if Laura had had a sister, or if both of Laura’s children were of the same sex?
12. Even though Helen guarded her secrets through most of her life, in the end, she wanted Laura to know the truth. What does understanding the truth do for Laura? How does it help her move on?
13. Sea Escape is supposed to be the ultimate dream home for Helen and Joseph. On page 285 Holden says, “Helen was the master of painting us as the happiest family in Anaskaket, until his tragic death. But it wasn’t that way. No matter how much she tried to convince herself.” Do you think the dream ever became a reality for Helen? Or was Holden right, was all she created there an illusion, a façade?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
- Laura’s favorite treat is the Martinez family’s pan dulce, or sweet bread. Try making your own sweet bread for your book club meeting with this recipe: http://www.recipezaar.com/recipe/Pan-Dulce-Mexican-Sweet-Bread-285930.
- Up until Joseph’s death, Helen was passionate about sewing. Bring in something that represents a passion or hobby of yours and turn your book club into show-and-tell!
- Sea Escape is Helen’s beach-front dream home, and it sounds like a piece of paradise. Describe what your dream home would look like and where you would build it if you were to start from scratch.
- Learn more about Lynne Griffin by visiting her website, http://www.lynnegriffin.com. And check out her blog at http://www.Family-Life-Stories.com.
A CONVERSATION WITH LYNNE GRIFFIN
Sea Escape is inspired by letters your father wrote to your mother. Did anything else from your family history make it into the novel?
So many little particulars from my childhood and the relationship I had with my parents found their way into the novel. For example, I’ve includeDmy parents’ account of the Worcester tornado in one chapter, and the way in which they met in another. Even the names of streets and other locales were borrowed from my family history to give authenticity to the novel. Though the story—what happens to Helen and Joseph—comes entirely from my imagination, friends and family will find a veritable hidden pictures experience as they read.
Did you find it difficult to create fiction out of something real in your life, and not let the “true” story take over?
Yes, the experience writing this novel was different and much harder than writing my first; its tenets more elusive. The fact that I'd written a novel already was irrelevant. My own mother-daughter story intruded as I wrote. The seeds I borrowed from my own life tended to obscure Helen's viewpoint, and disrupt Laura's story. It wasn't long before I realized, I was in the way. Letting go, stepping aside to let these women do and say things my mother and I never did was the single hardest thing I've ever done.
You were working on another novel when the idea for Life Without Summer came to you. Was that other novel Sea Escape? Which book did you finish first? Did you work on them simultaneously?
When I found my parents’ letters, after my mother’s death, I went so far as to imagine excerpts of my father’s beautiful writing shining within a novel I might write. In those musings, Sea Escape was born. Still I told myself, you've never written fiction. You don’t know the first thing about taking on such an ambitious project, weaving his words into your story. No matter how much I dismissed it, the idea nagged me. For years it wouldn't leave me alone. Characters were named. Plot lines fleshed out. Twenty or so pages writtenpages that would eventually become the last chapter of the novel.
Then the muse staged a coup, insisting she had a different plan for my literary life.
One morning I woke from a restless night’s sleep with a new story in my mind. From beginning to end, the whole plot was crystal clear. I knew the first line and the last line, and those words, in what is now Life Without Summer , remain unchanged.
So, Sea Escape was pushed aside to make room for another story. Yet not for long. When my first novel went out on submission, I rolled up my sleeves and got back to what started it all; the story that compelled me to write fiction in the first place.
Both of your books have themes of loss and mourning. Is this something that you deal with a lot in your career as a family life expert? Do you think your work has helped you to understand your characters better?
My father died suddenly of a heart attack when I was a sophomore in high school. He went on a business trip with my mother and only she returned from New Orleans. This event disrupted our family in unimaginable ways. I continue to grieve the painful loss to this day. And until my mother passed away in 2000, twenty-five years after my father, she was never the same.
I began writing fiction at forty, after her death stirred up my fear of loss, the stabbing pain of it. Somehow writing to the heart of a story about a grieving woman and a lonely child gave me the chance to sort through things long buried, and to offer hope to others who may be afraid. It became my attempt to comfort those who know loss intimately as I do.
Whatever you call it, a hole, the missing piece, my soul wound, I accept–even embrace–my need to continually make sense of my profound losses. The stories I write, each unique in their way, highlight aspects of grief that are universal. While every person’s journey toward healing is deeply personal, we’re all tied to each other in the collective experience of it. At some point everyone will make its acquaintance. For those who do, I have a story.
Is there one character in the book that you relate to or sympathize with the most?
I’m asked this question a lot, and while I truly care deeply about all my characters—in all their shades of humanity—the one I love the most is Helen. Like my own mother, she struggles with what’s called prolonged grief disorder. A specific kind of depression brought on by loss, that for some reason refuses to follow the typical trajectory of grief. In my years as a grief counselor, I’ve met countless people who simply cannot move through the grieving process. I empathize with Helen, stuck in the past, gripped by the pain. And I have enormous compassion for what my mother experienced after the death of my father. For this reason, Sea Escape is a very personal and deeply emotional novel for me, and Helen, a character I will be forever connected to.
You’re from the Boston area, where the book is set. Was the setting important to you? How does it play a role in the story of these two women?
I grew up in Worcester and later Holden, MA. I’ve lived in and around Boston for most of my life. I live in a seaside town now. The familiarity of these settings made aspects of this challenging story easier for me to write. But the real reason portions of the novel take place south of Boston, on the Massachusetts coastline, is because my parents dreamed of having a home like Sea Escape. Placing the story there was my way of giving that to them.
Does Laura’s story end for you where it does for us as readers? Do you have a future in mind for her beyond the pages of the book?
For me, the end of one of my novels is merely the end of the final scene. My characters are very real to me, so yes, I believe Laura’s story continues. I believe her grief work has just begun. The novel ends with her realizing many things between her parents—and between her and her mother—were not as they seem. Still she chooses to believe in love and commitment and dreams full of promise. It’s who she is. So I imagine Laura will be just fine. She is a lot stronger than she gives herself credit for.
What’s your next project? Are you working on a third novel?
I’m really excited about the next novel I’m working on. Once again, I’m digging to the heart of a family story with overtones of loss, and a strong emphasis on the parent–child relationship. Stay tuned.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Laura Martinez is struggling to manage her career and relationship with her family when her mother, Helen, suddenly becomes debilitated by a stroke. Mother and daughter have not had the most successful of relationships since, after the death of her father, Joseph, Laura's mother has become distant and cold. Now it's up to Laura to bridge the distance between the two and discover the secrets of her parents' strange marriage. Drawing on a series of old letters from her father to her mother, Laura begins to trace the delicate faults in her mother's heart and comes to understand that, now more than ever, their relationship needs to be mended. Reaching far into the past, a dual narrative emerges focusing not only on Laura and her mother's painful relationship, but also of the early days of Helen's relationship with Joseph. Theirs is relationship marked with tenderness and love, but also with painful separations and deception. As the novel winds forward, Laura struggles to close the distance between herself and her mother while also juggling the feelings of resentment towards her husband and her frustrations with her children. As it winds back, Helen draws on her ingenuity and creativity to craft beautiful designs in fabric to take her focus off of missing Joseph and having to raise her children virtually alone. Tender and stirring, Sea Escape becomes a novel that carefully crafts the fragile bond between mother and daughter and shares the way that the tragedies of our past can affect us even today.Though I don't read much women's fiction, I did end up really enjoying this book. The two story lines blended together well and enhanced each other in a way that made the story very full bodied and well rounded. Sometimes when a book goes the dual narrative route, I find myself more interested in one section than the other, but surprisingly in this book that wasn't a problem. I found both stories to be entertaining, and because they dealt with such different issues, the scope of the novel was larger and more diffuse.One thing I have to admit is that I didn't like Laura very much as a main character in the beginning. She seemed very whiny and plaintive at times, and at others she could be remarkably selfish. Of course, there were moments when she could be incredibly loving and altruistic, but for the most part, I had a hard time getting close to her. I didn't understand why she kept losing patience with her husband because he seemed to be just about perfect. I'm not sure if this drama between them was an artificial construct to keep the tension running high in the book or if it was just Laura taking out her stress on an innocent target. Whatever it was, I didn't much like it. I do think Laura had some incredible moments though. She gave and gave to her mother, never shrinking back when her gifts were not accepted, and she was constant in her love for her children, which I admired. I just got a little tired of the "woe is me" attitude she had and felt like she wasted critical time being wounded and sorrowful when she could have been learning how to open herself to the love that other family members, like her husband and sister-in law, wanted to give her.Though Laura and her mother were very different kinds of women, as I read I began to see a lot of similarities between them. Both of them were strong and independent and felt that they could handle pretty much anything on their own. Both women were stubborn as well, making the same mistakes and butting their heads against the same walls over and over again. I think that although their passions differed, they had a lot of the same temperaments, and felt that they were both a little too independent at times, which made others in their lives feel unnecessary. I think Laura tended to be a little more high strung than her mother, but both let emotion run very high in their lives and let their emotions rule them at times. It was interesting to see how different the women were, while still being th
Laura is in the sandwich generation--she's got two kids at home, a thriving nursing career, a loving husband, and a very difficult mother who shut down years ago when Laura's father died. When her mother has a massive stroke, Laura breaks her mother's long held demand for privacy by beginning to read to her the letters her father wrote to her mother years ago, describing their perfect love. Or at least that was always the story. As the letters unfold, a different tale of her parents lives and relationship emerges, and Laura finds she has more in common with her mother than she ever dreamed.
Laura Martinez longs to restore the closeness she once had with her mother, Helen. But Helen seems to live mostly in the past, encased in her beautiful home by the sea, reading long ago love letters from Laura¿s father who died many years ago. Helen is remote, cold at times, and critical. It is only Laura¿s ten year old son Henry who seems to touch her heart. When Helen suffers from a stroke, Laura finally feels as though she can be of use to her mother, and maybe, just maybe, find a way back to her.Lynne Griffin¿s novel Sea Escape is set on the coast of Massachusetts and introduces readers to two women ¿ Laura and Helen ¿ and their difficult relationship. The book opens on the day of Helen¿s stroke, then winds it way backwards through flashbacks to Helen¿s earlier life as a young woman who turns to sewing beautiful fabrics together in order to create her dream home. Slowly, Griffin begins to uncover the essence of who Helen is and how her marriage to Joseph, a journalist who is away more than at home, helped shape her. Griffin alternates between Helen¿s story from the past and Laura¿s memories of her childhood, to bring the story full circle.Neither woman is particularly likable at the beginning of the novel, especially Helen who is seen initially only through Laura¿s eyes. But, with the flashbacks told in Helen¿s point of view, the reader begins to understand the barriers Helen has erected which are fueled by her unresolved grief. Likewise, Laura¿s desire to be perfect ¿ running herself into the ground to be the best wife, mother, and daughter ¿ starts to make sense. As Helen lays in a hospital bed, Laura begins to read her father¿s letters ¿ letters which hold the key to her parent¿s marriage and secrets long buried. By uncovering her parent¿s history together, Laura begins to put her own life and needs into perspective.Sea Escape is the type of book that delves deeply into the lives of women ¿ their challenges, desires, fears, and relationships. It is also a book about mothers and daughters and the ambivalence that often develops between them. Finally, this novel deals with long term grief and the difficult road to recovery.I mostly enjoyed this book, especially the parts told from Helen¿s perspective as she grows from a young girl into a married woman during the 1960s and 1970s when America was embroiled in the Vietnam War. It is Helen¿s story that anchors the book.It took me awhile to develop empathy for both Laura and Helen ¿ women who I didn¿t understand until I was well into the story. At first I felt this to be a weakness of the writing, but later came to appreciate how Griffin reveals the danger of pre-judging someone before we know their history. It is easy to label a person cold, bitchy or uncaring based on their outward behavior, but only when we learn their life experiences can we grow to see why they might behave as they do. And it is through that process that empathy develops.Sea Escape is a good summertime read for those who like women¿s fiction set in New England.
I enjoyed this book. A great book about not only mother/daughter relationships, but also about family relationships. Having a mother who is a manic drepressive touched close to home in some parts of this book. Her characters come to life, I felt like I got to know each and every one. I enjoyed the home, "Sea Escape" and was longing for one of my own. This book would be great for bookclubs to discuss as there are many topics to touch upon, relationships, infidelity, miscarriages, and the devastating effects of strokes. I am intrigued enough by this book to check out her other book "Life Without Summer."
A thoughtful and deeply moving but complicated love between mother and daughter from two different eras. The daughter uncovers the details of her parents' marriage, thru letters and between the spaces each line is written, and more secrets unspoken...and discovering a common thread of secrets mother and daughter unknowingly share. Characters you will despise and some you grow to love. " I have read her other books and always in for a treat!
Not at all what i expected! it kept me reading.
The family dynamics revealed bit by bit make "Sea Escape" by Lynne Griffin a captivating read. This is a story of complex family relationships: mother-daughter, husband-wife, sister-brother woven together with a careful hand by a very talented author. From the first page I was drawn into the story of Laura Martinez, a perfect example of the "sandwich" generation. She is trying to balance her career as a nurse, wife and mother to two young children. Her relationship with her mother, Helen, has always been a difficult one. Helen seems to be more involved with the memory of her long-dead husband and reliving their relationship through reading and rereading letters he had written her throughout their courtship and marriage, than with her living children and grandchildren. When Helen has a stroke and stops speaking, Laura strives to get through to her mother by reading her father's love letters aloud. As her parents' story unfolds, secrets are revealed and the reality of the foundation of Laura's life is altered forever. I feel this is a book with broad appeal; it would be an excellent book club discussion book, a book to share with your mother or daughter or just something to pick up, ponder and enjoy. I look forward to reading other books by this gifted author."
In the Boston area, forty-five year old Laura Martinez is the poster person of the sandwich generation. Her widowed mom Helen has suffered a stroke, which leaves her as the caretaker though mom and daughter have never been close. Her two young children Claire and Henry are confused about how to behave with nana suddenly around. Even her husband Christian is unsure. Helen survives more in the past than the present as she constantly muses over her late spouse. Her mom's thoughts bewilder Laura who reads the love letters between her parents. Laura is stunned as she begins to uncover family secrets that she never knew of, which in turn leads to a new understanding and appreciation of her mom and an awareness of the need to be more honest with her family. Sea Escape is an interesting family drama that is at its best when the story line focuses on the tensions including feelings of being trapped that engulf Laura. When the subplot moves into the secrets of the past, the tale loses its grasp on present issues as the yesteryear comes across edgy but unreal. Readers will overall enjoy Sea Escape as Lynne Griffin provides a strong look at being trapped between the older and younger generations. Harriet Klausner