Beth Webb Hart is the author of many successful books, among them Love, Charleston and The Wedding Machine. Each of her books has a religious theme or undercurrent of Christianity. Still her books have always kept a balance between the overall storyline and the religious aspects. That balance is skewed a little in her latest novel Sunrise on the Battery.
The story concerns prominent Charleston couple Jackson and Mary Lynn Scoville. They are living the good life. They have money, a place in Charleston society, well regarded friends and a happy family life. They have it all, or so it appears. For Mary Lynn, however, something is missing.
She and Jackson did not grow up wealthy or socially prominent. They have had to scrap and dig for all that they have. Now they want their three daughters to have it all, and they push them to be their best. Jackson especially is an untiring taskmaster who drills his daughters on their studies and their musical abilities. Mary Lynn sees his harshness but is powerless to change it.
In her need Mary Lynn reaches out to a local church. There she finds a semblance of peace. Her prayer is that her husband Jackson will also find the faith that she has discovered, but he seems totally repulsed by any semblance of religious beliefs. His conversion becomes Mary Lynn's sole prayer.
All of this takes place in the beautiful Charleston area, a place Hart knows well and describes with relish. She also paints a picture of Charleston society that is not the most flattering, peopling it with shallow men and women who are more concerned with their own wants and needs than with helping anyone else.
Hart also lets the religious aspects of the story take over the plot. Instead of being a story of two people who are struggling to find the right balance in their lives, the book becomes a treatise on how to live the Christian life. This imbalance might draw readers from the religious community but it will turn off those who want a story and not a sermon.
Beth Webb Hart can create characters who hold our attention and she can describe landscapes with stunning depth and definition. She can also create plots that intrigue and inspire us. But, in this story the complexities of the characters get lost in the emphasis on the power of religion. Problems that seem major -- drug use, adultery, underage drinking, etc -- fall by the wayside as the story progresses. The religious issues are resolved but the others are not.
If Hart is writing for a religious readership then she has created a successful novel, but if she is aiming for the masses she has failed. The lack of balance in the story will have some readers tuning out as the sermonizing begins.
Sunrise on the Battery is published by Thomas Nelson. It contains 304 pages and sells for $15.99.
Jackie K Cooper