– NANCY GRAPE

Maine writer Holly Chamberlin, author of “Tuscan Holiday” and “The Friends We Keep,” has created a sun-blessed portrait of Ogunquit in her new book, “The Family Beach House.”

This lively novel, however, is about more than one of Maine’s most sophisticated beach sites and the colorful summer pleasures that abound on its white sands and in its signature art galleries. From first page to last, “The Family Beach House” is about people, and they will linger in your mind after their story is told.

Basically, the large cast of characters, like the beach house itself, centers on members of the McQueen family, starting with the father, Bill, and moving on to four children — Tilda, Adam, Hannah and Craig — all grown fully into adulthood with lives, relationships and children of their own.

They come to Larchmere, the family home in Ogunquit, to remember their childhood and forge new interactions with one another that reflect the events they’ve lived through since then.

One individual seems to dominate those reflections more than any other. It is their mother, Charlotte, dead for 10 years when the book begins and the subject of a memorial anniversary the family is about to observe in her honor.

A loving tribute, you might think, what a nice idea. But you’d be wrong. There is little love lost between Charlotte and some of her children, even years after her death. She was the cold matriarch who set the rules in a domain designed to impress outsiders. To his detriment, her son Adam inherited that steely dominance. It would prove a painful asset. Charlotte’s daughter Hannah and son Craig, to their credit, would build lives outside her life’s parameters and benefit from the distance. Her daughter Tilda, the central figure of the novel, who has been widowed and faces a confusing future, will use her mother as a kind of reverse compass, making different choices and finding a better course.

“Increasingly, Tilda found herself wondering about nostalgia, or, more specifically about romanticizing her past with (her late husband) Frank,” Chamberlin writes. “She wondered if the process was inevitable and necessary and if so, she wondered if it had already begun. Was nostalgia destructive if it became extreme? She thought that it might be. Still, at this point, a little over two years after Frank’s death, she could barely remember ever arguing with him and what conflict she did remember had no emotional weight.”

Ultimately, Chamberlin tells us, “it was just that Tilda had never expected this particular change, that at the age of 47 she would be single and alone.” But that is her reality, and Chamberlin builds her novel around it.

Best of all, perhaps, Chamberlin’s story exists as one with its setting. And it is in her portrayal of Ogunquit that the writer particularly shines.

In many ways, Ogunquit is one of the most urbane summer resort areas in Maine. Choices abound on where to stay, where to eat, where to shop, where to lose oneself in art, where to hike the rocky coast, where to slip into the sea and where to raise a sun-protecting umbrella on the beautiful sugarlike beach. Chamberlin lays it all out in joyful detail that provides a supportive background for the story of the McQueens of Larchmere. Fortunately, in the hands of this experienced author, they are not overwhelmed.

“The Family Beach House” is an enjoyable summer read, but it’s more. It is a novel for all seasons that adds to the enduring excitement of Ogunquit.

 

Nancy Grape writes book reviews for the Maine Sunday Telegram.