1950s: Henry and Effie are newlyweds honeymooning during the off-season in Cape May, New Jersey, in Effie’s uncle’s beach house. They don’t really know each other very well, they’re sexually inexperienced, and are having some difficulty with the awkwardness of being around each other all day. Bored and restless, they decide to leave early and go home.
BUT! They see lights on at a nearby house . . . neighbors! They get excited, thinking maybe meeting some new people will liven things up. They have no idea just how much.
Their new neighbors, Clara and Max, are not completely unfamiliar to Effie. Clara was a friend of the family while she was growing up during the summers at Cape May, and Clara often teased the younger Effie to the point of bullying. Effie is reluctant to spend any time with her, but they can’t escape Clara’s constant invitations to parties, and soon they’re captivated by Clara’s carefree bohemian lifestyle with her lover, Max.
Clara throws wild parties that quickly get out of hand, replete with gin and casual sex. She brings in cosmopolitan friends from New York, and the bumpkin Georgia newlyweds are swept away with the hedonism. This decadence, however fun at first, quickly devolves into dangerous flirtations and destruction.
The drunken sex parties got somewhat repetitive, and the story takes a while to get going, but nevertheless, it maintained my interest. Just about every character is loathsome, but even though these people are self-centered and repugnant, I couldn’t help but keep reading to see what they would do. The focus on Henry’s experience offered some specific insights, but the lack of attention to other characters, specifically Effie, were detrimental to rounding out the story’s perspective. There is a strange leap forward in time in a rushed epilogue, but at least it serves to answer the curiosity of “So, what happened to them?”
It’s a fun book with a psychological bent of what superficially milquetoast people are capable of when shown a wilder side of life.
Many thanks to Celadon Books, Netgalley, and BookishFirst for the advance copy in exchange for my review.