Say it isn’t true, Kristy Woodson Harvey. Say this isn’t our last trip to Peachtree Bluff.
But that’s life, isn’t it? Things change, people move on. There are new adventures. And one of the many good things about Harvey’s fiction is that, while imaginative and fresh, it’s entirely credible and true to life.
Fans will be comforted to know that as Harvey takes us to “The Southern Side of Paradise” to visit the Murphy women one last time, she does so in the fine style we have come to expect.
This trilogy is a satisfying series about Ansley Murphy, whose husband died in the collapse of the second World Trade Center tower on 9/11, leaving her with three young daughters. The shock of her husband’s death was compounded when she discovered that he had not left anywhere near the amount of money she thought they had.
Needing to start over, Ansley takes her daughters, leaves Manhattan and moves south, to the house her grandmother bequeathed her in Peachtree Bluff, a coastal Georgia village.
The series is set years after the 9/11 tragedy, after Ansley has managed to build an interior design business, make a new life, raise her daughters and send them out into the world.
It’s set in motion when, to her shock, all three daughters wind up back home. Caroline, the oldest, arrives after her husband betrays her on reality TV — while she’s pregnant with their second child. Sloane, the middle sister, brings her young sons so she can have family support while her Army husband is deployed. Emerson, the youngest, an aspiring actress, arrives from L.A. after having landed a good role that will be filmed in the area.
And, just to complicate things, a man who has an important role in Ansley’s past also arrives in town.
In turn, each of the three books focuses on Ansley and one of the daughters, using the alternating points of view Harvey perfected in her first two, stand-alone novels, “Dear Carolina” and “Lies and Other Acts of Love”
This one is Emerson’s turn in the spotlight. She’s engaged, and she’s excited about having finally landed a really big role. She’s also struggling with some health problems. And for a variety of reasons, some of which she tries to ignore, she’s not nearly as happy as she should be about the wedding that her sisters are helping her plan.
This novel also brings the stories of Ansley and the two older daughters to satisfying resolutions. Not conclusions, of course, because life will go on, and knowing the Murphy women, it’s sure to have its surprises. But Harvey does get everyone to a point where she can leave them and start something new.
If you’ve got to put them into a genre, Harvey’s books are Southern women’s fiction. She’s a North Carolinian through and through — grew up in Salisbury, graduated from the UNC journalism school and, after she was married, lived in Kinston for a while before moving to Beaufort. In fact, she’s on record as saying that although her editors wanted this series set in Georgia for reasons of their own, Peachtree Bluff is an awful lot like Beaufort.
Unlike some contemporary Southern fiction, Harvey doesn’t indulge in stereotypes or exaggerated drawls. She writes knowingly about the South as it is today.
And unlike some “women’s fiction,” Harvey’s books aren’t heavy on the romance, nor are the Murphy women delicate flowers waiting to have all their problems solved by some handsome hero.
She writes with intelligence, wit and insight. A recurring theme in her fiction even before this series has to do with secrets and lies within families and relationships. She deals with when it’s better to keep quiet about something and when the truth needs to come out.
As her fans will know, there are some pretty significant secrets running through the Murphy family.
If you’re packing a bag for beach or other vacation reading, be sure to include “The Southern Side of Paradise.”