Can’t Make It to the Beach? These Novels Will Take You There

Sometimes what you want is not a “beach book” but a book literally set at the beach.

‘The road was from a fairy tale, a long stretch of sand inside a tunnel of lush pine trees. When they reached the end, there was the ocean, sparkling in the sub, dark blue against a small sandy beach, which was nestled between two long stretches of rocky coast.’

In “Maine,” by J. Courtney Sullivan, three generations of the dysfunctional Kelleher family descend on their summer cottage with all their baggage in tow — sibling rivalry, illness, alcoholism, parenting difficulties.

‘The water! Franny wanted to run toward it with her hand clasping open and closed like a lobster’s claws to hold on to it, a shimmery dream. The Mediterranean was richly blue, with tiny waves lapping in and out.’

In “The Vacationers” by Emma Straub, a New York family — loving, bickering, full of secrets — arrives on the Spanish island of Mallorca for a two-week vacation.

[ Searching for more great summer reads? Look no further. ]

‘The land seemed almost as dark as the water, for there was no moon. All that separated sea from shore was a long, straight stretch of beach — so white that it shone.’

Peter Benchley’s shark classic, “Jaws,” is every bit as campy and fabulous as the movie it inspired.

[ We revisited the “it books” of summers past, going back 50 years. ]

‘I was glad to have the Vineyard house, a tidy little Victorian on Ocean Park in the town of Oak Bluffs, with lots of frilly carpenter’s Gothic along the sagging porch and a lovely morning view of the white band shell set amidst a vast sea of smooth green grass and outlines against a vaster sea of bright blue water.’

In Stephen Carter’s “The Emperor of Ocean Park” — equal parts saga and thriller — a family gathers on Martha’s Vineyard after the death of its patriarch.

‘The beach at the foot of the hill was a fawn shimmering under indigo.’

“The Sea,” John Banville’s beautiful meditation on love, loss and regret, is about a middle-aged Irishman who, grieving the death of his wife, returns to the seaside village of his boyhood.

[ What makes a book a “beach read,” anyway? We asked the experts. ]

‘The sky over the wetlands was a fine, simmering blue, slowly boiling up morning. Before you lay the dead, misty surface of the bay, an imperturbable line of dark gray, a slab of ancient stone come out from under the earth. A reversal there: the sky was liquid, the water a solid screen.’

“Sag Harbor,” Colson Whitehead’s coming-of-age story about a Colson-esque teenager, is set in the moneyed Hamptons.

‘We are in the north, and the bright sunshine cannot penetrate the sea. Where the gentle water taps the rocks there is still a surface skin of color. The cloudless sky is very pale at the indigo horizon which it lightly pencils in with silver.’

In Iris Murdoch’s Booker Prize-winning novel, “The Sea, the Sea,” a famous director/playwright has holed up at a remote seaside house to write his memoirs.

[ Read our critic’s appreciation of Murdoch, a great writer “as in touch with animal instincts as intellectual ones.” ]

‘A shift or strengthening of the wind brought them the sound of waves breaking, like a distant shattering of glasses. The mist was lifting to reveal in part the contours of the low hills…’

In Ian McEwan’s “On Chesil Beach,” Edward and Florence, just married, arrive at a hotel on Chesil Beach. Edward wants to have sex. Florence does not.

‘He first heard a low rumbling, like that of distant thunder, then saw a wall of water rise from the depths of the ocean, a giant blue-green tongue, trying, it seemed, to lick the sky.’

In “Claire of the Sea Light,” Edwidge Danticat filters the history of Haiti through the family of 7-year-old Claire.

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