“The Belongers,” a new novel by local author Mary Kathleen Mehuron, is a page-turner of a summer read that deftly checks off every box in the genre -- boxes summarized in the New York Times 1898 Summer Book Review as a plot “devoted to lovers. . . their thrills, their perturbations, their mishaps, and their triumphs.”
Grand Turk Island’s tropical setting is the jumping-off point for the novel. With blue waters, sandy beaches, excellent snorkel and scuba diving spots, Grand Turk and its capital city, Cockburn Town, attract tourists and characters from around the world. All these attributes play a role in this story.
We follow single mom Holly Walker and her young adult son Byron, as owners of a restaurant, the Sand Dollar, and an old inn, the Roseate House, in Cockburn Town as they assimilate into island life. She realizes they will never be “Belongers,” a term that describes the native population of the Turks and Caicos, differentiating them from the island’s expatriate population, even though that population can go back generations. However, Holly and her son are becoming very much a part of the island community.
But Holly brings a past. A transplant from Vermont, she is deeply connected to this island in the form of her son’s father, who, as a young man, took a job offer to work for Holly’s surrogate parents in Vermont, saving his earnings before returning to Grand Turk to seek his fortune.
Mehuron deftly weaves together a fabric of breezy tropical life, island relationships, and the trials of business ownership, as Holly tries to sort her feelings about her future and the men in it.
While this unfolds, the island becomes a target for a category 5 hurricane, the likes of which has not been seen in living memory. Holly, along with everyone else, must make preparations to survive.
The idea of a hurricane as a device in a novel’s plot is not new. John D. MacDonald, a writer famous for his detective fiction, used a hurricane in his 1977 novel “Condominium,” to wipe out all of what he disliked about the real estate boom that he saw eradicating the “old Florida” that he loved so much.
His description felt like watching a hurricane on the Weather Channel -- dramatic and sweeping in scope.
Mehuron’s hurricane is more focused -- personal. The reader stays with a group of nine people huddled together in what they hope will be a safe location, experiencing the power of the wind, sounds of destruction, and the rain while they use their wits and resources to cope. One is relieved when it has passed.
The storm’s aftermath takes Holly in many different directions that the reader will have to discover. It’s not a spoiler to note ultimately the islanders recognize Holly’s triumphs with the title of “Honorary Belonger,” a title well-deserved.
Summer reading at its best.
Noble lives in Warren.