"The Bookshop at Water's End" By: Patti Callahan Henry

Jul 5, 2018

“The Bookshop at Water’s End”

Author: Patti Callahan Henry  

Publisher: Berkley

Pages: 328

Price: $16.00 (Paperback)

Patti Callahan Henry, of Mountain Brook, Alabama, is a seasoned, professional writer of popular fiction, the author of 12 previous novels, several of them best-sellers. Her books are highly readable stories of family life, the relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children and quite often between siblings, especially sisters.

Henry is a fan of the independent bookstore, as many contemporary writers are, but she goes farther and puts the bookstore in the novels. Call it a character if you like. There is a bookstore here and  in the 2009 novel “Driftwood Summer,” a place where characters gather to talk in book discussion groups or just sit and talk. The bookstore store becomes a kind of modern general store.

Henry’s books are sometimes termed “beach novels,” that is, books meant to be read at leisure, on vacation. But many are literally set in beach towns, usually small. This seems to me a pretty good idea. During counseling, if the patient is advised to close his eyes and go to his happy place, that happy place is likely to be a beach somewhere. The connotations are almost always pleasant—childhood memories of freedom or establishing a better connection with nature or, for adults, stressless vacation time.

As one would guess, Henry’s books are not tragedies; they have some variety of happy ending, but it has to be earned. She describes her general process as follows:

Take the protagonist, usually a woman, and take her supports away from her. Take her from her comfort zone by denying her the everyday certainties that sustain her.

The protagonist of “The Bookshop at Water’s End,” Bonny Blankenship, lives in Charleston and loves her job as an ER physician. She is great at it, is highly respected.

But her home life is a mess. Bonny’s husband, Lucas, like many husbands in women’s novels, is dense, selfish, demanding, utterly without empathy. As she has come to recognize, he wants her “to be someone else.” Lucas, a successful attorney, of a fine old Charleston family, wants Bonny to pay more attention to him, cook more and better, entertain his clients more and better, and be more active socially and in the PTA. He shows no appreciation of the satisfaction Bonny gets from saving lives in the emergency room, every day.

Their daughter, Piper, is a college student and Bonny has decided, really decided, to leave. She expects to become Director of the ER at Emory Hospital in Atlanta.

Of course, catastrophe occurs. Owen McKay, her lifelong love, who had “held her heart in his wild hands,” is brought into the ER with injuries from kite boarding. Not injuries sustained while on duty with Doctors Without Borders, but kite boarding.

Bonny hasn’t seen Owen in 20 years; she is surprised and rattled. At the same time the victim of a car crash is admitted and Bonny administers a shot of Dilaudid, for his pain, without checking his chart.

The man dies. Bonny is suspended. She may lose the job at Emory. She may even lose her license to practice medicine.

No spoiler alert for the above was necessary: all of this occurs in the first few pages.

Leaving Lucas, Bonnie goes to the family beach house at Water’s End, with Piper, to rest, think, recover her balance. In the course of a summer, the past is explored, some old mysteries solved, and the path to the future becomes clearer.  

Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” His most recent book is Belles’ Letters 2, a collection of short fiction by Alabama women.