Same Beach, Next Year by Dorothea Benton Frank

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In Same Beach, Next Year, bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank delivers a hard-to-put-down family drama set in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, where two families start a tradition of spending their summer vacations together at their beachside condos on the Isle of Palms, one of Charleston’s barrier islands. Against the backdrop of seashore and sunshine, we see them weather life’s ups and downs.

For Eliza and Adam Stanley and Eve and Carl Landers and their respective children, the Wild Dunes complex becomes a second home they look forward to visiting each year. Adam and Eve share a secret—a high school romance they’ve kept hidden from their spouses. The vacation is their chance to relive the fantasy about what might have been. Each is happily married, yet each dreams about the life they could have had together. Adam is captivated by Eve’s blonde beauty, with looks so different from his Greek wife’s. In his eyes, Eve is the temptress who remains out of reach while he’s stuck with the comfortable and competent Eliza.

As the years roll by, the friendships between the two couples become more complex and Benton’s skill as a storyteller is showcased in the plot’s twists and turns. Much of the story is told by Eliza, a consummate homemaker and loving wife and mother. She dedicates her life to her husband and twin sons, putting aside a cherished dream to return to the Greek village where her deceased mother was born. She believes Adam when he tells her such a trip would be too difficult and expensive, even as his constructions business thrives.

An interesting cast of characters shares the story with the Stanley and Landers families. Eve’s mother Cookie, the person she and Adam blame for thwarting their teenage love, is a southern belle with an acid tongue. She meets her match in Clarabeth, another belle with her own plantation who’s won the heart of Adam’s dad, Ted. This is how Frank describes Clarabeth: “She was towering over a grinning Ted, wearing a black mink coat to the ground, high heels that could produce altitude sickness, and enough makeup to scare the hell out of Estee Lauder… ‘Merry Christmas, y’all!’ she said in a smoky voice that suggested a lifetime of dedication to tobacco products.”

Although many of the book’s secondary characters are fully depicted and play important roles in the story, the younger generation is somewhat ignored. Eliza and Adam’s twin sons, Max and Luke, and Eve and Carl’s daughter, Daphne, are described in the early part of the story, but they fade far into the background over the years only to return at the end. Perhaps this is because the real focus is on the old romance that threatens to destroy both the Stanley and Landers families.

Many summers have come and gone before Eliza and Carl realize what’s been going on with their spouses all along. Although Adam and Eve haven’t done much more than moon at each other during summer vacations, they have been communicating throughout the year. Things reach a crisis when they both end up at their beach condos one day during the off season. The meeting is a coincidence, but their actions put both marriages in jeopardy. Eliza and Carl aren’t exactly innocent. Even though they’ve enjoyed a nice little flirtation for almost 20 years, they both feel that Adam and Eve have crossed a line.

Parts of the story are told by Adam, giving some insight into how his fantasies about Eve have kept him living in the past. He’s a guy who doesn’t spend too much time worrying about the feelings of the people around him until it’s almost too late.

As Eliza wonders whether she should forgive Adam, she begins to discover long-buried secrets about herself. The possible death of her marriage is a kind of rebirth for her. The trip to Greece is taken and she finds an entire community of friends and relatives who remember her mother and welcome her with open arms. While she’s gone, Adam has a chance to imagine what married life would be like with Eve, who has none of Eliza’s homemaking skills.

The two couples seem headed for divorce until unexpected events bring everyone together. Suddenly things are put into perspective and the path forward becomes clear. This is where the story goes deeper and more satisfying.

Besides family drama, Frank serves up plenty of escapism with descriptions of beautiful and exotic locations. Many delicious meals are consumed, especially when Eliza escapes to her Greek island. With plenty of drama, sassy dialogue and a travelogue of Greece, Same Beach, Next Year is a fun summer read and entertaining in any season. The book has an average rating of 4 of 5 stars on Goodreads after more than 10,000 ratings. ■