"Palm Beach is no vacation for society dame"
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Posted February 10, 2019
Women's Fiction Contemporary
It was wonderful to begin reading A PALM BEACH WIFE
on a day that was cold and dreary, forecast to go from
all-day rain to overnight snow. On a day like that, I
welcomed the escape to the tony Floridian world where people
"divide their summers between Greenwich, Aspen, and the
Everything in this novel radiates warmth: the rubies hanging
off charity dames, the ticking hoods of Maserati, the
sun-soaked tennis courts.
So too: the flush of Faith Harrison's face when her husband
tells her they've lost everything, the hot boozy breath of
trophy wives standing too close, the ballroom lighting that
suddenly transforms into a probing spotlight.
Why Edward has decided to share this news at a black-tie
gala is beyond Faith and me, but it certainly is dramatic.
What happens when you lose all buying power in a social
circle that values clout over all else? Do you put up as
collateral your successful high-end resale store? Or do you
cling to it and watch your husband dig out of this hole by
Now consider: it isn't just you and your social standing at
stake, but also that of your daughter. Like all Palm Beach
mothers, Faith has pushed Katherine "toward the best
colleges in the northeast, the caveat [being] that [she]
would come home, sport a mild tan, marry well, and be on as
many committees as time allows -- factoring in tennis, golf,
shopping, then lunch on the Avenue."
This is Faith's dilemma. It provides ample opportunity for
displays of conspicuous consumption though less for
To my taste, some of the tossed-off references to obscene
wealth landed flat: the Mar-a-Lago lunches; the paid-for
grad school in Manhattan; the love of housekeeper Inez who
Faith considers "a confidante and family friend." Right.
But there is always some degree of fantasy to the best
romance novels. Susannah Marren's intimate scenes stole the
show. It takes some real skill to write decent sweet
nothings, and she pulls it off.
And there are glimpses of depth here: as Faith clings to her
position in Palm Beach society, her daughter questions
whether she really wants to fall in step behind her.
So, read A PALM BEACH WIFE for warmth, not light.
For readers of Elin Hilderbrand, a delicious and
irresistible commercial novel set among the high society
galas and gossip of Palm Beach.
Amid the glamour and galas and parties of Palm Beach, Faith
knows that image often counts as much if not more than
reality. She glides effortlessly among the highest of the
high society so perfectly that you would never suspect she
wasn’t born to this. But it wasn’t always so; though she
hides it well, Faith has fought hard for the wonderful life
she has, for her loving, successful husband, for her
daughter’s future. In this town of secrets and gossip and
rumors, Faith has kept a desperate grip on everything she
holds so dear, built from so little. And yet even she—the
only one who knows just how far she has to fall—never
suspects from which direction, or how many directions all
once, betrayal will come.
ExcerptLucas is leaning against a bench at the public beach
between Mar-a-Lago and Eau Spa when she gets there. The sky
is filled with pink and magenta streaks; the sun is rising.
In the gentle light, Lucas’s face is unflawed, mildly Clark
Kent–esque. Today she finds the look both sexy and
endearing. His straw hat reminds her of a picture she once
saw of Ernest Hemingway. She smiles at Lucas’s
interpretation of incognito.
“Surreal, isn’t it?” he asks.
Early risers, mostly fishermen, walk toward Benny’s on the
Beach for their pancake breakfast.
Faith nods. “Totally.”
They stand without touching,
“Join me, Faith.” Lucas leads her, pats the empty space on
the bench for her to sit.
She collects her hair into a ponytail, runs her tongue
across her front teeth. Nothing about him has to do with
Palm Beach or the Avenue. Nothing about her either. As if
they exist in a cubic prism—the lateral view belongs only
to them. She slots in, they face the boardwalk jutting into
the ocean, their shoulders close together.
“So many years apart. I’m still thinking of you,” Lucas
“I don’t remember the last time I sat next to you,” Faith
says. She’s near enough to touch any part of his body.
“Decades.” The voice again, a memory of telling a joke by
batting an eye.
“A lifetime ago.”
“Well, we’ve seen each other. Wasn’t there one time at the
Candy Kitchen in Bridgehampton, Margot sending daggers
toward you? If looks could kill, they say.” Lucas laughs.
“Margot. She and I are sort of friendly these days.”
“Really? All that she wants is your title for the Arts and
Media Ball,” Lucas sighs.
“Not a bad idea,” Faith says. A comment that pops out of
her mouth, filled with truth. Perhaps it was yesterday with
Diana and last night with Edward’s pretense that caused the
“What?” How he gazes at her.
Uneasily, she turns to him. “Nothing.”
Waves roll in, crashing into one another as if their rhythm
is off. Part of her wants to strip off her clothes,
instigate unmarried, untethered sex. She sniffs his skin as
though it might save her life. She could breathe Lucas
instead of oxygen.
After years of brief and tenuous thoughts, longings and no
place to file anything. An affair of the mind that hasn’t
any home or port.
“I’ve missed you.” Lucas’s mouth at her ear. “Let’s not
wait another stretch like this—twenty-five years—to be
together. I should never have let you go. I regret it—I’ve
regretted it always. But now, now our kids are grown.”
She blinks, remembering what Eve had said when Lucas broke
it off with Faith. He’ll be sorry, really sorry. One day—a
faraway day—he’ll come begging.
“Lucas,” she says. “Maybe . . .” He places his forefinger
on her lips, then over her forehead. She’s made of carved
alabaster, in place for his touch, unable to resist.
“Soon? Maybe?” He reaches over to kiss her. “Hey?”
“You don’t want me, Lucas. Believe me.”
She wishes this warning weren’t true. He kisses her again
and she opens her mouth. He tastes like licorice and tree
resin; his lips are soft and strong.
The wind blows his hat and he tugs it back before it flies
away. Faith pulls her hood over her head and stares at him.
Is he being sincere, or is she too incredibly threadbare
from what’s gone on that she wouldn’t know? How many years
has she imbued Edward with qualities he may or may not
have? Still, her husband needs help, and here she sits with
Lucas. He hugs her and she sinks into him. A
comfortable/strange caress. What kind of person is she?
“Something has happened with Edward. I want to tell you
before you hear it on the tennis courts, at some golf
match, a cocktail hour at Longreens,” she begins.
“Let’s not do that this morning. Can’t we shut Edward out?
And Margot out? Let’s the two of us have our own little
reunion.” He puts his mouth close to her ear again. “Come
with me, Faith, it’s time. We’ve always been in love..”
“I need to explain . . . first,” Faith says.
“Explain what, Faith?” He’s half listening, persuaded by
their tête-à-tête, perhaps fascinated by her face so near
to his—that they’re in each other’s company. He moves
toward her ear again. She wants him to keep at it, but
instead she stiffens, moves back.
“Lucas, we have to talk about Edward, if not the others.
Today. Because he’s in trouble.”
He pauses almost politely as she shifts the conversation
far from their interlude. A few more fishermen pass by on
their way to the pier.
“Edward’s lost our money. You’ll know about it soon
“How?” Lucas asks with a slight detachment, as if there’s
nothing original in her news.
“Bad investments, I suppose—personal investments. I’m
understanding he was careless, imprudent. It’s going to
rumble through Palm Beach, people talking, whispering.
Katherine has to be safe. I’m trying to help, to figure out
what to do.”
Lucas straightens up and looks at the shoreline, away from
“I brought you to Palm Beach. We were meant to be together.
You and I . . .”
What might have been with Lucas, the life not shared. Has
he missed her careful camouflage, threaded together over
the years with great care? Rather he’s searching for a
reason, one he’ll understand.
“Oh, Lucas, I don’t know that, I don’t know—I let that go.
I had to.”
The gulls caw overhead, cackling and dropping clamshells
onto the boardwalk.
“A loan,” Lucas says. “Would that help?”
“I’ll loan you money, Faith. Name the amount.”
“Why are you doing this, Lucas?”
“I owe you. I owe you for . . .”
“Please, please don’t say this.” She closes her eyes,
wanting to touch his collarbone.
“You should take the check, Faith.”
“I can’t do that,” she whispers.
He starts to kiss her. She kisses him back, wishing he’d
invade her being. They would find a spot beneath the pier
to make love, Lucas would be inside her. Whether they do or
not, she’s covered in Lucas anyway.
What do you think about this review?
No comments posted.
Registered users may leave comments.
Log in or register now!