Pierce Kososky. A Week at Surfside Beach
Great for a book club choice!
A beach house and ocean are the common touchpoints in the 16 stories that Pierce Koslosky collects in A Week At Surfside Beach. Each week, a different family rents his blue house, Portofino II - 317C and write in his guestbook. The author told me, “Reading those entries gave me the idea to construct the book around a rental season, week by week. We have made so many visits to Surfside (South Carolina) that I had plenty of incidents and raw material to manufacture those imaginary renters.”
The families who rent Portofino II, as all families, need to rely on each other to succeed. This is not easy. All the stories have conflicts, harsh fighting or a lack of trust. Yet, as the author explained, there remained possibility for all his characters, a new direction or chance. “I don't believe that any of us is beyond the reach of redemption.” Pierce wrote to me about that possibility. “Lines get drawn in the sand that people refuse to cross, yet in reality lines drawn in the sand are washed away by the ocean and every day is a fresh start.“
It is intriguing that the exact same space is inhabited by different people yet experienced differently. The renters are single and couples, and parents and children of all ages. As the author described it, relationships get locked into boxes that family members cannot escape from. Surfside Beach is called a “family” beach—and all the stories are about families, damaged, lacking communication, fighting and filled with hope. The rental house in some way represents home and family and the sea is both continuity and change.
One of my favorite stories is The Inflatable Dragon. Eighty-one year old John’s children want him in a senior facility. John does not agree: his kids are not listening. His escape from his family is both hilarious and poignant. While out at a restaurant, he sees Renee, slightly drunk and upset from a breakup with her boyfriend, pouring out her heart to fellow diners, who are uncomfortable with all the drama. John’s outreach to Renee is generous, a contrast from his relationship with his own children.
The week at the beach seems to bring out the existing conflicts: A father who finds it hard to control abusive language to his young daughters; a woman who furiously builds an elaborate sandcastle after her husband left her; and a father who drinks because his son continuously messes up only to find his son’s strong arms around him, saving him from the rip tide pulling him out to sea.
Pierce has written stories of hope and redemption, connection and detachment, and lessons taught and learned. Families of all ages spend a week in a landscape that is both beautiful and overwhelming in its ability to force introspection and change.
A special recipe is attached, inspired by the dessert in the last story. Apple Hand Pies are the creation of Pierce’s daughter, Sarah, baker and co-owner of The Ovenbird Café in Austin, who spent many happy weeks each year at the very house in these stories.