Meet Linda Breland, single parent of two teenage daughters. The oldest, Lindsey, who always held her younger sister in check, is leaving for college. And Gracie, her Tasmanian devil, is giving her nightmares. Linda's personal life? Well, between the married men, the cold New Jersey winters, her pinched wallet and her ex-husband who marries a beautiful, successful woman ten years younger than she is—let's just say, Linda has seen enough to fill a thousand pages.
As the story opens, she is barreling down Interstate 95, bound for Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, the land of her ancestors. Welcomed by the generous heart of her advice-dispensing sister, Mimi, Linda and her daughters slowly begin to find their way and discover a sweeter rhythm of life.
And then there's Brad Jackson, a former investment banker of Atlanta, Georgia, who hires her to run his restaurant on Shem Creek. Like everyone else, Brad's got a story of his own—namely an almost ex-wife, Loretta, who is the kind of gal who gives women a bad name.
The real protagonist of this story is the Lowcountry itself. The magical waters of Shem Creek, the abundant wildlife and the astounding power of nature give this tiny corner of the planet its infallible reputation as a place for introspection, contemplation, and healing.
As in all Dorothea Benton Frank's previous work, you'll find Shem Creek to be compulsively listenable, irreverent but warm, and blazingly authentic—and you'll dread reaching the last page. It is her vivid writing, colorful characters and rich narrative that have made Frank one of our nation's greatest storytellers. Shem Creek is a triumphant novel that proves we are all entitled to a second chance. The challenge is to learn how to recognize it when it comes and to know which chance to take.
About the Author
Dorothea Benton Frank is from Sullivan's Island, South Carolina. The New York Times bestselling author of Sullivan’s Island, Plantation, Isle of Palms, and Shem Creek divides her time between the New York area and the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
Hometown:New Jersey and Sullivan's Island, South Carolina
Date of Birth:1951
Date of Death:September 2, 2019
Place of Birth:Sullivan's Island, South Carolina
Read an Excerpt
Shem CreekA Lowcountry Tale
By Dorothea Benton Frank
BerkleyCopyright © 2004 Berkley
All right reserved.
PrologueMy mother always used to say that if a man could count his real friends on just one hand that he was a wealthy man indeed. My mother was right. I'm going to tell you a story about heaven and hell and how I got out of one and found the other-both with the help of a true-blue friend. Hell was being married to Loretta and working for her father. Heaven is our restaurant on Shem Creek, which we would never have had, except for the generosity and ingenuity of my best friend and partner, Robert. We call it Jackson Hole because my last name is Jackson and I guess you can say it is a hole in the wall. Yeah, it's definitely a hole in the wall. And, Robert like to ski guess where. I know. It's a less than nimble play on words, but let's get this on the record right now-when the whole world conspires against you, a healthy sense of humor can be a very valuable tool. And, up until eight months ago, the world conspired. Worse, I was thrashing around in my quagmire of self-deception watching it happen and didn't do a thing about it.
I used to come down here all the time, in between deals, and I guess I've been fishing the waters around Charleston for fifteen years. There isn't a creek in this whole area that hasn't seen the bottom of my boat, but that said, every time I dropped a hook in the salty creeks and rivets, it always seemed like the first time. The landscape and the light-well, it was always a little different. Quiet but vibrant. You could have made yourself believe that the good Lord Himself was somewhere in the thicket, waiting patiently for you to remember that He was still there. It finally got to the point where I just left my boat in South Carolina. And my heart? Well, looking back, it seems now that the only time I ever thought about it was when I was floating on the Lowcountry waters.
We should discuss this heaven and hell thing, which all begins with my newly-acquired-at-great-personal-loss philosophy. Here it is in a nutshell. When you choose the wrong partner at the dance (whether it's marriage or profession), you will surely bust you ass.
Women seem to know this by instinct. Men don't, men are conditioned from birth to be providers and basically, our success is measured by how well we do that job. This somehow neatly translates to how much we earn and how many trophies we can accumulate over a lifetime. Cars, second houses, antiques, jewelry for the wife ... this list goes on and on. We have to graduate from the rights schools, become a partner in the right firm, marry the right girl, be invited to join the right club and develop a decent game of golf and tennis.
Right? Wrong! That entire unholy plan, my friends, is a truckload of manure.
Isn't it? I swear, I laugh now when I think about the years I spent chasing the almighty buck. Money, money, money. And, chasing the almighty buck with my wife, Loretta, who always was and continues to be a misery. Well, I can laugh now, but a few months ago, it was not funny at all.
Overall, daughters are so much luckier than sons. Their mothers tell them to follow their hearts, right? They say, Darlin'? If you want to go study history, you go right ahead. Honey? If you want to be a chemist, go right ahead! Sure enough, women will graduate and can usually earn a decent living with their degree, doing something they love. Of course, women get screwed left and right because they don't earn the same money that their male colleagues do for performing the same jobs and for a whole variety of other reasons, but for the most part, I think women are happier in their professional lives. And yes, I guess you could say that I am kind of a male feminist.
But, sons are another matter entirely. When I look at the number of kids coming out of graduate school with business degrees, I am absolutely astonished. I mean, where are they all going to find the fortunes that they think are waiting for them? The ones they think they are entitled to? And law school? Don't get me started! Do we really need more lawyers?
What has happened to humanity is this. The world has become vicious, because the devil's real name is greed. Our ability to justify our greed is staggering. If you believe what you read, see and hear around you, our children's future will be all about heeding the call and joining the detestable clamor for money and power. It breaks your heart.
When I think about how I used to run my life, I am sure I must have been completely out of my mind. Besides working seventy-hour weeks, I used to read three newspapers every day-The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. No more. Now I read the front page of the Post & Courier and guess what? It's as much as I want to know about what's going on "out there". And, I check the weather and the tide tables.
Let me ask you something. Have you ever been to Italy? Did you know that Italy has the sixth largest economy in the world? But when you go there, you see shops closed for hours in the middle of the day, everyone seems to be drinking wine and espresso, smoking Marlboro Reds, and it looks like no one's working! What is going on in Italy? Ahen. They are really living. And, guess what? Their lives last just as long as ours do. But! They're enjoying their lives one helluva lost more than we are. So, I said to myself, Brad? One day, you're gonna be dead and buried. That's when I decided to become Italian.
I want to have a romance with life! I want to love women and children and savor all the beauty and good to be found in the world. I was missing everything. So hitting rock bottom was a good thing. Otherwise, I'd still be a hamster, running on a worthless, pointless wheel, racing to the grave.
"Mr. Brad? Your appointment is here."
"Okay, I'll be right there. Thanks!"
That was Louise Waring. Who's she? Well, Louise is the greatest woman in the world, that's all. She runs the kitchen, everybody and everything. She's the chef when Duane takes days off, and the assistant chef when he's here. She is capable of almost anything, thank God. Shoot, just last week she stopped a knife fight in the kitchen between a busboy and a dishwasher. Seems one guy made a slanderous remark about the dubious nature of the other's birth, which was followed by a reference to the other fellow's lewd preference for his mother. Well, after that, the conversation switched to Spanish and could have escalated to life-threatening situation, but Louise stepped in and threatened to call the police. It's a good thing our customers don't know what goes on in the kitchen. It's bad enough what goes on in the dining room!
Rock bottom? It's almost embarrassing to tell you how I got there, but I've been thinking about it a lot. I figure that if I can save some other poor son of a gun from the hell I went through then it's worth it to put my pride aside. No, I've come to some very new conclusions and it all began with becoming separated from Loretta and going broke. I was forty-two, a smart fellow (or so I thought) with a platinum resume and suddenly I didn't have a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of, like my grandfather used to say. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.
Look, you'll have to excuse me for just a few minutes. This interview shouldn't take very long. And, when I get back, I'll tell you why simplifying life is such a beautiful thing. Yep, think like an Indian and keep it simple. Just hold that thought.
Excerpted from Shem Creek by Dorothea Benton Frank Copyright © 2004 by Berkley. Excerpted by permission.
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