Hugh and Laura Walker could never have anticipated that the single greatest source of joy in their lives could so suddenly fill them with such unrelenting grief. The death of their only child, seven-year-old Michael -- struck by a car just seconds after stepping off his school bus -- has left them stranded in a sea of sorrow. With no emotional compass to guide them, the Walkers retreat to an old cottage near Cape May, New Jersey, where, separated from the daily reminders of their numbing loss, they hope to reenter the world of the living.
But lurking just below their sanity and resolve are memories -- not only of the simple joy that Michael brought to their lives, but also of the horror of his fatal accident. Buffeted by the conflicting winds of mourning and renewal, the Walkers see the once-solid foundation of their marriage begin to loosen. And Laura harbors a secret -- one essential to her self-preservation, but which could destroy all she and Hugh have ever been to each other. Reed's Beach weaves domestic tragedy with a strikingly original thriller of the heart, revealing the truths hidden deep within each of us, while holding out the elusive promise of love and hope.
Heavy-handed symbolism and plenty of repetition ensure that even the least attentive reader will grasp the twin themes of mourning and renewal in Lott's latest effort. Three months after their young son Michael is killed in a freak accident, Hugh and Laura are offered the chance to live rent-free in a cottage on the southern New Jersey shore. During the course of a single, unusually warm February day, the grieving pair begin to come to terms with their loss. Laura finds succor in Roland and Winnie, a rather self-consciously down-home couple with a flair for the cliched and hokey dictum: ``Truth is, sweetheart, seems we just needed to come in here and have a good gab session.'' For his part, Hugh goes to his office, fends off his co-workers' sympathy, and has illuminating encounters with his boss's wife and with a neighbor. Interspersed between detailed descriptions of the couple's day are flashbacks of Michael alive and dead. Any superficial resemblance of the setting and subject matter to the likes of Anne Tyler or Alice Hoffman is undermined by Lott's contrived symbolism, portentous tone and ponderous statements. The author of Jewel has gone seriously awry in this banal and boring story. Author tour.