Island Bookshelf: East End inspiration

When I opened this new book by Jamie Brenner, generally described as a leading author of beach reads, my expectations were simple. Sun, surf, sand, romance, probably lust. Then, the very first page set the scene at The American Hotel, in our sister village of Sag Harbor, and I was hooked.

Islanders are nearly as comfortable strolling through this historic whaling town as they are on the Rock, and its many charming features will be familiar to local readers. Ms. Brenner, who decided to write about the town after a weekend stay at the hotel with her husband, takes the reader on a tour of the town and its history. While introducing her plot of greed and suspicion with an unusual cast of characters to carry it forward.

The real American Hotel is a gathering place for a diverse clientele, from village workers to Hollywood celebrities. The central character, Emma, is a fictional manager at the front desk. Her late father was a bartender there. Her 14-year-old daughter spends some of her free time in the comfortable reception area, drawing pictures that attract the eye of one of the regulars, himself a noted artist.

The daughter is not only coping with the typical hurdles of adolescence and a protective mother who draws frequent eye-rolls; she also suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder for which she is in therapy.

Ms. Brenner draws on many of the facts that make Sag Harbor unique, from the movie theater needing to be rebuilt after a devastating fire, to the whaling history that built the town, to the African-American communities that are a fundamental part of the town’s character. “I always worry about doing a place justice,” Ms. Brenner said. She made the campaign to rebuild the theater a focal point in the story, “because there was such an effort to say that art is important in our life. What is a town without a theater?”

While taking her characters through the town landmarks like the Long Wharf, Historical Society, the John Jermain Memorial Library and Whaling Museum, she weaves in much of the history without making the reader feel like it’s summer school.

The author has set other novels in places she’s visited, writing one book a year about places like Provincetown, Massachusetts, or the Jersey shore, where she spent childhood summers. A future book in the pipeline will be set in a vineyard, so East End readers may find themselves in familiar territory. She will be signing copies of her books at Finley’s Fiction on June 21 from 5 to 7 p.m.

In “Drawing Home,” she introduces the traditional tensions between locals who live on the water and city folk, as well as society matrons and single working mothers. Further, she creates interesting dialogues between generations, races, classes and genders, including divorced spouses.

The plot requires a willing suspension of disbelief as do most works of fiction. I would have been willing to read through a longer, more complex explanation about how the characters resolve their mysteries and conflicts rather than have ends tie up a bit too neatly to be believed.

It’s a slim volume, designed for slipping into a beach bag, but once the various plot lines are resolved, it seems you could have enjoyed reading much more about these characters’ lives. Just like summer, it was over too soon.