"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
wasnâ€™t born to this. But it wasnâ€™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
daughterâ€™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 sheâ€”the
only one who knows just how far she has to fallâ€”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, Lucasâ€™s face is unflawed, mildly Clark
Kentâ€“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 Lucasâ€™s
interpretation of incognito.
â€śSurreal, isnâ€™t it?â€ť he asks.
Early risers, mostly fishermen, walk toward Bennyâ€™s on the
Beach for their pancake breakfast.
Faith nods. â€śTotally.â€ť
They stand without touching,
â€śJoin me, Faith.â€ť 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 prismâ€”the lateral view belongs only
to them. She slots in, they face the boardwalk jutting into
the ocean, their shoulders close together.
â€śSo many years apart. Iâ€™m still thinking of you,â€ť Lucas
â€śI donâ€™t remember the last time I sat next to you,â€ť Faith
says. Sheâ€™s near enough to touch any part of his body.
â€śDecades.â€ť The voice again, a memory of telling a joke by
batting an eye.
â€śA lifetime ago.â€ť
â€śWell, weâ€™ve seen each other. Wasnâ€™t there one time at the
Candy Kitchen in Bridgehampton, Margot sending daggers
toward you? If looks could kill, they say.â€ť Lucas laughs.
â€śMargot. She and I are sort of friendly these days.â€ť
â€śReally? All that she wants is your title for the Arts and
Media Ball,â€ť Lucas sighs.
â€śNot a bad idea,â€ť Faith says. A comment that pops out of
her mouth, filled with truth. Perhaps it was yesterday with
Diana and last night with Edwardâ€™s pretense that caused the
â€śWhat?â€ť How he gazes at her.
Uneasily, she turns to him. â€śNothing.â€ť
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 hasnâ€™t
any home or port.
â€śIâ€™ve missed you.â€ť Lucasâ€™s mouth at her ear. â€śLetâ€™s not
wait another stretch like thisâ€”twenty-five yearsâ€”to be
together. I should never have let you go. I regret itâ€”Iâ€™ve
regretted it always. But now, now our kids are grown.â€ť
She blinks, remembering what Eve had said when Lucas broke
it off with Faith. Heâ€™ll be sorry, really sorry. One dayâ€”a
faraway dayâ€”heâ€™ll come begging.
â€śLucas,â€ť she says. â€śMaybe . . .â€ť He places his forefinger
on her lips, then over her forehead. Sheâ€™s made of carved
alabaster, in place for his touch, unable to resist.
â€śSoon? Maybe?â€ť He reaches over to kiss her. â€śHey?â€ť
â€śYou donâ€™t want me, Lucas. Believe me.â€ť
She wishes this warning werenâ€™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 whatâ€™s gone on that she wouldnâ€™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?
â€śSomething 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,â€ť she begins.
â€śLetâ€™s not do that this morning. Canâ€™t we shut Edward out?
And Margot out? Letâ€™s the two of us have our own little
reunion.â€ť He puts his mouth close to her ear again. â€śCome
with me, Faith, itâ€™s time. Weâ€™ve always been in love..â€ť
â€śI need to explain . . . first,â€ť Faith says.
â€śExplain what, Faith?â€ť Heâ€™s half listening, persuaded by
their tĂŞte-Ă -tĂŞte, perhaps fascinated by her face so near
to hisâ€”that theyâ€™re in each otherâ€™s company. He moves
toward her ear again. She wants him to keep at it, but
instead she stiffens, moves back.
â€śLucas, we have to talk about Edward, if not the others.
Today. Because heâ€™s in trouble.â€ť
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.
â€śEdwardâ€™s lost our money. Youâ€™ll know about it soon
â€śHow?â€ť Lucas asks with a slight detachment, as if thereâ€™s
nothing original in her news.
â€śBad investments, I supposeâ€”personal investments. Iâ€™m
understanding he was careless, imprudent. Itâ€™s going to
rumble through Palm Beach, people talking, whispering.
Katherine has to be safe. Iâ€™m trying to help, to figure out
what to do.â€ť
Lucas straightens up and looks at the shoreline, away from
â€śI brought you to Palm Beach. We were meant to be together.
You and I . . .â€ť
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 heâ€™s searching for a
reason, one heâ€™ll understand.
â€śOh, Lucas, I donâ€™t know that, I donâ€™t knowâ€”I let that go.
I had to.â€ť
The gulls caw overhead, cackling and dropping clamshells
onto the boardwalk.
â€śA loan,â€ť Lucas says. â€śWould that help?â€ť
â€śIâ€™ll loan you money, Faith. Name the amount.â€ť
â€śWhy are you doing this, Lucas?â€ť
â€śI owe you. I owe you for . . .â€ť
â€śPlease, please donâ€™t say this.â€ť She closes her eyes,
wanting to touch his collarbone.
â€śYou should take the check, Faith.â€ť
â€śI canâ€™t do that,â€ť she whispers.
He starts to kiss her. She kisses him back, wishing heâ€™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, sheâ€™s covered in Lucas anyway.
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