Summertime and the livin’ is easy – Porgy and Bess
Gershwin collaborated with Dorothy and DuBose Hayward in a South Carolina cottage to write the famous lyrics, and Dorothea Benton Frank uses the place and the history to frame her story at Folly Beach.
After Cate’s husband hangs himself with the Christmas lights, the day of his funeral is anticlimactic – until the debtors come to repossess the furniture, the mistress appears with pictures of bastard children, and the secretary offers condolences by saying she is glad he is dead so she will not have to file for sexual assault. Within all this turmoil, Frank has another story she is telling in alternate chapters, and it takes a while to figure out what she is talking about. The reader is as confused as poor Cate Cooper.
Cate moves from New Jersey to her aunt’s historic house in South Carolina, former home of playwrights Dorothy and DuBose Heyward, authors of the play they adapted for musical theater with Gershwin. The ghosts of the twenties and thirties emerge as the back story. Familiar names sprinkle the alternate chapters, written as scenes in a play, with the lead character, Dorothy Hayward, reminiscing about her contemporaries: Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claudette Colbert, Fanny Hurst. The historical references are real and although distracting at first, these chapters prove far more compelling than the main storyline of Cate suddenly finding a new handsome love interest who inspires her to write a play about the historic couple.
Frank paints a convincing backdrop of the sultry South Carolina shore and the cobble-stone streets of Charleston. The lowcountry setting is appealing, and Frank’s historic references motivated me to check her references. She followed the Hayward lives closely, even including his children’s book that has never been out of print – The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes.
But not enough history in this Southern tale and too much gravy and biscuits – even for a beach read. At the end of her book, Frank provides a list of references about the famous writing couple – might be better to check those out instead.