Dorothea (Dot) Benton Frank is known for her novels that center around the beaches and Low Country in coastal South Carolina. Sara, a friend from South Carolina, introduced me to Dot’s work years ago, and I’ve been an avid fan ever since. I was very excited to meet her at this year’s LA Times Festival of Books Stories from the South author panel. To read more about that panel, click here. Dot warned us Folly Beach would be a departure from her past work in several ways, and it is. At the same time, it showcases the style fans have come to love so much in her Low Country Tales.
Folly Beach is a story rooted in the present but also in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The modern-day story revolves around Cate Cooper. The 1920’s & 1930’s story centers on DuBose and Dorothy Heyward. DuBose is a legend to all Charlestonians and famous for his libretta for Porgy & Bess.
Cate’s world in Alpine, New Jersey, is about to collapse around her. Although she always craved a simple life, her husband of 26 years, Addison Cooper, was into accumulating lots of expensive toys and signs of success. He could never seem to have a big enough house or enough proof that he’d made it in life. When Folly Beach opens she’s attending his funeral because he had hung himself over her piano. She’s furious with him for killing himself and even more furious that he did it over her family heirloom piano.
As the funeral winds down, Cate learns from Addison’s secretary that the women in his office had planned to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against him. She learns from one of the partners’ wives that he’s lost all of the firm’s money. Last but not least, a woman shows her a picture of Addison’s two-year old son – not Cate’s BTW. I’m not sure how many shocks one person can take in one day but they have just begun. By the time the day is over, Cate learns she has just 48 hours to get out of her house and that everything in it will be repossessed or sold to pay off Addison’s debts.
“’Ma’am, I understand from your housekeeper here that your husband’s funeral was this afternoon and I know this probably seems like terrible timing, but I’m here to serve you with papers. The bank is foreclosing on your house for nonpayment of the mortgage…And there’s three big trucks outside from the D&D Building in New York? Your decorator sent them. Nonpayment of bills…And basically they’re gonna take anything else they might be able to sell at auction to recoup their losses…Except your clothes.’”
Patti, Cate’s sister, and her husband, Mark, help Cate sort through what she wants to keep and box it up. Mark suggests swapping out the wine cellar’s pricey contents for cheap stuff so Cate can sell the expensive wine but she’s afraid they’ll get caught. Finally Patti slips her some money, they find her a cheap used SUV, load it up and send Cate off to Folly Beach to stay with their Aunt Daisy and her life partner while trying to put her devastated life back together. Eccentric Aunt Daisy, who’s suffered a broken foot, decides Cate can help with her rental properties on the beach and lets her live in the tiny Porgy House, which DuBose and Dorothy Heyward owned and lived in while Porgy & Bess was being written.
That brings us to the DuBose and Dorothy Heyward part of the novel. This novel is also about their life on Folly Beach and their struggles getting George Girshwin to write the music to finish Porgy & Bess so it can be staged. DuBose and Dorothy met at the MacDowell Colony. Chapters featuring them are intermixed with chapters about Cate, dovetailing in a very natural way. Click here to see the original Porgy stage play manuscript and hear the MacDowell Colony exhibit curator’s story of their time there. DuBose and Dorothy referred to Folly Beach as Follywood as an inside joke because they both loved Hollywood glamour. I loved the juxtaposition between their lives there and the life Cate was leading there.
“DuBose and I may not ever have earned a lot of money at one time, but ah well, such is a writer’s lot in life. After he published Porgy with Doubleday in 1925, we had a few more cookies in our cookie jar and were able to acquire a little house in the wilds of Folly. We adored the island and every peculiarity about it.”
How Cate resolves her grief/anger, her finances, her love, her life and how she finds her lost dreams is inspiring and transforming. I loved the irascible characters of Daisy and her partner, Ella. I also loved the insight into DuBose and Dorothy, who I had heard so much about when I lived in Charleston many years ago. Dot’s research for this novel revealed a whole new perspective on them than I had ever heard. Last but certainly not least, is Mr. Risley, who I’m not going to tell you about but who I believe you’re going to like a lot. Dot says this is a novel about redemption and that’s exactly how it read to me. I loved every minute of it!
I’ll be honest, because of the unusual way Folly Beach is written, it was difficult for me to figure out how to review it without giving away too many spoilers but still give you a feel for it. Hopefully I’ve done that. If you’re already a Dorothea Benton Frank fan, you’ll really enjoy this one. If you’ve never read her work, this would make a great beach or lazy afternoon read!
If you’ve read any of Dorothea Benton Frank’s novels, including Folly Beach, we’d love to get your comments on them or on her as a novelist. We’d also love to hear your comments about this review.
If you like our review, please +1 it and/or share it with your friends!