(Scroll down to read an excerpt and find book club questions.)
Chosen as a best summer read by People, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, and Good Morning America!
“Midlife love, laughter, sibling rivalry and self-discovery . . . Goes down as easy as it sounds.”—People
Life’s a bit of a beach these days for Ginger Walsh, who finds herself single at 41 and back home living in the family FROG (finished room over the garage) in the fictional town of Marshbury. She’s spent a few too many years in sales, and is hoping for a more fulfilling life as a sea glass artist, but instead is babysitting her sister’s kids and sharing overnights with Noah, her sexy glassblower boyfriend with commitment issues and a dog Ginger’s cat isn’t too crazy about.
You can almost smell the salt air as you take this rollicking ride with one slightly relationship-challenged single woman, one older BlackBerry obsessed married-with-children sister on the verge of turning fifty, one dump picking father, one kama sutra t-shirt wearing mother, one movie crew come to town with a very cute gaffer, plus a couple of Red Hat Realtors and a pair of evil twins. Reminiscent of her bestseller Must Love Dogs in all the right ways, yet very much its own animal, Claire Cook’s new novel sparkles with warmth, wit, and wisdom.
“If I had a sister, I’d want her to be Claire Cook. If I had a summer, I’d want it to be the summer that two sisters stropped their tongues and sparred over everything from fertility to photography to family. And if I could follow up the wry, wacky poignancy of Must Love Dogs with any book, it would be Life’s a Beach. Claire Cook is wicked good.”—Jacquelyn Mitchard
“LIFE’S A BEACH is a delicious coming of age novel—about two forty-something sisters who don’t quite manage that feat until it’s almost too late. I devoured this slice of family life served up in Claire Cook’s inimitably warm and witty style. Tender, touching and terribly, terribly, funny!”—Mary Kay Andrews
“Claire Cook’s smart, delightful new book made me laugh on the first page and on every single page all the way through — even when it also made me cry. True, tender, insightful, and hilarious — I loved it.”—Pamela Redmond Satran
“Claire Cook has given us a heroine you’ll cheer for and a book you won’t be able to put down. I loved it.”—Karen Quinn
Excerpted from Life’s a Beach by Claire Cook
© Claire Cook. All rights reserved.
I was squeaky clean and my hair had been conditioned for at least two of the suggested three minutes when the water went cold. I did a quick rinse, then turned the faucet off. The plastic shower curtain moved a few inches, and a clean white towel magically appeared. Noah had already left when I woke up, but maybe he’d only made a breakfast run. Or maybe he just couldn’t stay away. I smiled.
“Here you go,” my mother said from the other side of the curtain.
I screamed. I wrapped myself in the towel and stepped out of my tiny square shower and practically into my mother. “Jesus, Mom, I thought you were . . . someone else.”
“Noah? He left at six-twenty-five this morning. And tell him to watch that pebble business or he’ll break a window.” My mother started dabbing my shoulders with another towel.
“Mom, stop.” My mother kept dabbing. There were no limits in our family. I could clearly remember sitting in the bathtub with a book one night when I was ten or eleven. My sister, Geri, had already gone off to college, and my parents had company for dinner. Suddenly, the door opened and four adults looked in at me and my bubbles. “Say good night to Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien,” my mother said.
Today, my mother was wearing her Girls Just Wanna Have Fun T-shirt, and a couple of tiny beaded braids in her thick grey hair made her look like she’d just come back from the Caribbean. I was kind of wishing she were there now. “Listen,” she said, “your father and I have found the townhouse of our dreams. The Village of Silver Springs. Fitness Center with personal trainers, billiards, bingo, indoor boccie ball, salsa lessons. You know how your father loves to dance.”
“It’s not just a townhouse, it’s a lifestyle,” a strange voice said.
I peeked behind my mother to see two women wearing red hats. They were measuring what I liked to think of as my carriage house with a bright yellow tape measure. My cat watched silently from the rumpled sheets of my still-pulled-out sleeper sofa.
On my best days, I could convince myself that, with me at the far end of my parents’ driveway, and my sister and her family about a mile away, we had our own little Kennedy compound. On my worst days, I had to admit that I lived in an apartment over my parents’ garage.
The women waved. I hiked my towel up a little higher. “Mom,” I whispered, “get them out of here. Now.” My mother reached down and scratched my cat under his chin. She said, “Hi, handsome,” and he purred his acknowledgment. She nudged yesterday’s bra, which had somehow ended up in the middle of the floor, with her toe. “You’re going to have to start keeping things a little bit neater around here, honey.”
One of the women, the one wearing a jeweled red visor, didn’t seem to be the least bit bothered by the fact that I was dripping all over the apartment she was trying to help my mother sell right out from under me. In fact, she acted like I wasn’t even there. “A FROG is a nice bonus feature,” she said. “Everybody loves a FROG.”
“Excuse me,” I said, not that it was any of her business. “But, actually, it’s not a Finished Room Over the Garage. It has a bath and a kitchen, which makes it technically more of a carriage house.”
Everybody ignored me. “If you bury a statue of St. Joseph in the ground,” the visor woman said, “the house will get scooped up right away. Guaranteed.”
“Mom,” I said with every bit of outrage I could muster without dropping my towel. I wondered if telling these women this wasn’t a legal rental unit would make them lose interest, or if it would only get me in trouble with my mother.
“You have to be careful how you bury it,” the other woman said. Her hat had a frothy drape of red netting that covered her eyes, so maybe I really was invisible to her. “My cousin said she faced hers away from the house when she buried it, and the house across the street sold instead.”
“Upside down and facing the house is the way to go,” the other woman said. “If he’s upside down, that way St. Joseph will work extra hard to get out of the ground and onto the mantel of your new townhouse.” My mother was actually nodding, as if these two trespassing red-hatted women were not completely and certifiably insane.
“Well,” I said loudly, “I don’t want to keep you. Sounds like you’d better get over to the mall fast before they run out of statues.”
Now they were all nodding, so I started inching my mother toward the door, hoping the other two would follow. They did, though the first woman had unfortunately mastered the art of walking and talking at the same time. “But,” she said, “for St. Joseph to be fully effective, you also have to do all the necessary fix ups, price the house to reflect the current market, and of course, properly stage the home. Cut flowers, cookies baking in the oven, some pine scent potpourri. Then you add the statue.”
We were almost there. My mother leaned over and gave me a kiss on the cheek, and I reached past her to open the door. “Sorry I have to run,” she said.
“Not a problem,” I said as I hiked my towel up again.
“We’ll catch up later, honey.”
“You bet we will,” I said.
When I slammed the door behind them, I just missed the backside of one red-hatted Realtor.
I didn’t really think Noah would be in there with another woman, but you didn’t get to be my age without a few jolting experiences in your life, and it never hurt to be sure.
Noah was alone. His glassblowing furnace was open and blazing. He must have just turned on his CD player, because a scratchy recording of Gregorian chants blasted out at full volume and made me jump. He was wearing jeans with huge, frayed white rips in them and an old T-shirt.
He leaned back against the wall, and then kind of slid down until he was sitting cross-legged on the floor. I was half waiting for him to start chanting along with the Gregorians. Or even to start wrapping duct tape around PVC pipe so he could have a swordfight with some elves or something.
He sat there for a little while, then stood up again and tied a washed-out red bandana around his head, tangling some of his hair in when he knotted it in the back. He reached for his sunglasses and put them on, and I waited to see something along the lines of one of his open studio demonstrations. Instead, he started to dance. It took me completely by surprise, and I stepped away from the window and pulled [my cat] with me.
I peeked in again, from the side. It wasn’t quite a dance after all. More like tai chi or some kind of yoga in motion. Whatever he was doing, it was filled with long, graceful, continuous movements, and I could have sworn there was a little bit of imaginary swordplay in there, too.
He picked up a long blowpipe with a big knob of sea green glass on the end and clamped it across his work bench. Then he grabbed another smaller rod and dipped it into the furnace, and when he pulled it out he rolled the button-shaped gather of hot glass around in an old tin filled with crushed cobalt glass. He kept the first pipe spinning with his knee at the same time he twirled molten glass from the second pipe around the original blob of glass. Then he picked up some metal tongs and reached into the glass and twisted and pulled at it until it froze into a series of waves. He stopped and put everything down, stepped back, and looked at the knob from all sides, gave it a spin, then he did some more almost dancing around the room.
He came back and unclamped the blowpipe and plunged the knob into the furnace. He placed it back in the clamp again and kept it spinning with one hand. With the other, he reached into another tin and pulled out a handful of something that might have been pieces of gold and silver foil and sprinkled them like confetti over the knob. He put the blowpipe back into the furnace again, and sweat soaked through his T-shirt. He pulled it back out and dropped the glass end down until it almost touched the ground. The monks were still chanting, and Noah looked like he was lip-synching into the other end of the pipe. Maybe he was. Then he started to swing the pipe in a huge circle, crossing his wrists, as if he were twirling a fiery baton.
Finally, he lifted the pipe and placed his creation into the empty center of a sphere made from several lengths of copper tubing circled around and around and dangling from a clamp. He blew some air into the blowpipe and quickly covered the opening with his thumb. The blob of glass expanded slowly and magically until it filled up the copper orb and became some new kind of ringed planet.
Watching Noah like this was somehow more intimate than having sex with him. I felt like a stalker. In fact, I probably looked like a stalker.
“Come on, let’s find something good to do for your birthday.”
Geri leaned over the balcony so she could catch the light from the parking lot. “One of Last Call’s intoxicatingly handsome employees will deliver himself to your place of inebriation by way of motorcycle. Once there, the custom Italian cycle folds up and stows neatly in your trunk, and said handsome employee drives you home again in your car. God, that sounds so sexy.”
“It sounds okay,” I said. “But we’d have to get drunk first. And then we’d probably puke all over the handsome employee. And, most likely, they don’t have a Last Call franchise on the Cape anyway.”
“We could start one,” my sister said. “Yeah, but then we’d have to go all the way to Italy for the motorcycles.”
“And the handsome employees.”
“And what would we feed them? Where would they sleep?”
Geri sighed. “You’re right. It’s a lot of work.”
“It always is.” I pushed myself out of the chair and tiptoed into the hotel room. I opened the minibar and took out two minibottles.
I tiptoed back out and handed one to Geri. “Here you go. We’ll just stay right here and pretend.”
“Is Baileys Irish Cream from Italy?” she asked.
“I’m pretty sure,” I said.
“Where’s my glass?”
“Don’t you know anything? You have to drink from the bottle or it’s not an authentic minibar experience. Plus, I don’t want to sound like Mom, but we have no idea who’s been drinking from those glasses.”
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Book Club Conversation Starters
1. Are you a Ginger? Do you have a sister just like Geri? Do you think most women you know fall into one category or the other?
2. Have you ever met an Allison Flagg in real life? Was she dead-heading a beach rose?
3. Do you think Ginger ended up with the person she was meant to be with? If you could date either Noah or the gaffer, which one would you pick and why? Do you think their characters are based on real men, and if so, do you think Claire Cook has their phone numbers?
4. The father in Life’s a Beach is a bit of a dump picker. Do you have a family member who can’t stay away from the dump? Is there a Take It or Leave it, a Put ‘n’ Take, or a Swap Shop in your town? (Or a great dumpster in your city?) What’s the best thing you ever found there?
5. Ginger Walsh, the heroine of Life’s a Beach, is transitioning from a life in sales to what she hopes will be a more fulfilling life as a sea glass artist. Claire Cook always wanted to be a novelist, yet didn’t go after her dream until she was in her forties. If you decided to quit your current job, what dream would you pursue?
6. Who is your favorite minor character in Life’s a Beach? Why?
7. Would you ever let one of your own children become a child actor? Why or why not?
8. Ginger’s older sister Geri is struggling with how to celebrate her fiftieth birthday. What will/did you do for yours? Of all the ideas listed in “User’s Guide to the Fun, Feisty and Fabulous” at the back of the book, which one would you most like to try?
9. When book groups met to discuss Must Love Dogs, they often served Sarah’s Winey Macaroni and Cheese, made without butter, with white wine instead of milk, and served in wine glasses for best effect. What will your book group serve when discussing Life’s a Beach? (If you have any great ideas, email them to email@example.com so Claire can post them on the website!)
10. Which scene in Life’s a Beach made you laugh the hardest? Which one brought a tear to your eye? Which one gave you the biggest jolt of recognition?