About this book: (from the publisher) Each of the three Schuyler sisters has her own world-class problems, but in the autumn of 1966, Pepper Schuyler’s problems are in a class of their own. When Pepper fixes up a beautiful and rare vintage Mercedes and sells it at auction, she thinks she’s finally found a way to take care of herself and the baby she carries, the result of an affair with a married, legendary politician.
But the car’s new owner turns out to have secrets of her own, and as the glamorous and mysterious Annabelle Dommerich takes pregnant Pepper under her wing, the startling provenance of this car comes to light: a Nazi husband, a Jewish lover, a flight from Europe, and a love so profound it transcends decades. As the many threads of Annabelle’s life from World War II stretch out to entangle Pepper in 1960s America, and the father of her unborn baby tracks her down to a remote town in coastal Georgia, the two women must come together to face down the shadows of their complicated pasts.
Indomitable heroines, a dazzling world of secrets, champagne at the Paris Ritz, and a sweeping love story for the ages, in New York Times bestselling author Beatriz William’s final book about the Schuyler sisters.
About the author: (from her website) A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz spent several years in New York and London hiding her early attempts at fiction, first on company laptops as a corporate and communications strategy consultant, and then as an at-home producer of small persons.
She now lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore, where she divides her time between writing and laundry.
If this book were a movie, I would rate it: R for language and sexual situations
Why I read this book: to invite greater understanding of the past and others; to get lost in a story.
Content advisory: (fairly) non-explicit premarital and extramarital sex; some wartime violence
Reminds me of: Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey
Why I cared: for its exploration of selfless love and sacrifice.
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My take: One thing I’ve come to recognize about the novels of Beatriz Williams: she doesn’t shy away from big. Big story. Big characters. Big book. With her latest, in which she continues the saga of the inimitable Schuyler sisters, she delivers all of the above and then some.
Along the Infinite Sea is told variously by Pepper (how can you not embrace a character named Pepper?) and Annabelle. Though lived decades apart, their individual stories eventually become joined; it’s the anticipation of this joining that, in part, propels the reader forward. The double narratives offer very different voices. Pepper’s was rather my favorite, and is perhaps the only time I’ve ever seen narration in the second point of view (“you”–speaking directly to the reader) work. This masterful author nails it.
If anything, the story was a shade too big. There were times I wanted to speed things along a bit. At the same time, I was nicely surprised by several plot twists–that really, in hindsight I should have seen coming, but such is Ms. Williams’s skill, I did not.
I do feel conflicted because normally I shy away from stories that glamorize affairs, and it’s hard to deny that this one does. So that’s out there. But, from a story perspective, it also shows how beautiful sacrificial love can be. I also appreciated the characters’ recognition of the hand of God in their lives (or apparently not) and how they wrestled with the morality of their choices.
As I neared the novel’s conclusion, I did sense that it didn’t contain quite the same pop and sizzle that its predecessor (Tiny Little Thing) did, and I rather wondered about that–especially as it showcased Pepper’s story, and you can hardly find a character with more pop and sizzle than Pepper. But then, after all was said and done, I turned the last page and read a bit of the author’s own story, in which she relates that during the creation of this novel, under tight deadline, she lost 250 pages of work and had to write them all over again. From scratch. Let the horror of that wash over you. And then look again at Beatriz Williams with renewed admiration. Because what she pulled off is still a witty and engaging read. If it lacks her usual maxed-out sparkle, I think it may be forgiven. I’ll certainly be standing in line, eager to get my hands on her next one.
Thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.
After words: Have you read any of Beatriz Williams’s other novels? Do you have a favorite?
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