The House on Fripp Island by Rebecca Kauffman is yet another cleverly plotted book. It starts with a prologue and our narrator talking about their one and only trip to Fripp Island. Before fairly casually dropping in the fact they were dead by the end of the short getaway… Lovely Bones-style.
The House on Fripp Island
by Rebecca Kauffman
Published by Serpents Tail
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
Fripp Island, South Carolina, is the perfect destination for the wealthy Daly family: Lisa, Scott, and their two girls. For Lisa's childhood friend, Poppy Ford, the resort island is a world away from the one she and Lisa grew up in-and when Lisa invites Poppy's family to join them, how can she turn down an all-expenses paid vacation for her husband and children?
But everyone brings secrets to the island, distorting what should be a convivial, relaxing summer on the beach. Lisa sees danger everywhere, while Poppy watches over her husband John and his routines with a sharp eye. It's a summer of change for all of the children too, who are exposed to new ideas and different ways of life as they forge a bond of their own.
Those who return from this vacation will spend the rest of their lives trying to process what they witnessed, the tipping points, moments of violence and tenderness, and the memory of whom they left behind.
The prologue implies that twenty years have passed since our narrator dies on Fripp Island, so Kauffman (presumably purposely) stumps us for a while. As the book proper opens we meet our key players… the Daly family – Scott, Lisa and their daughters Rae and Kimmy. We fairly quickly learn that the marriage between Scott and Lisa isn’t entirely amicable and this quickly escalates once they arrive on the island.
They invite Lisa’s childhood bestie, Poppy and her husband John (and their two kids, Ryan and Alex). The two families couldn’t be more different. Lisa and Scott live a life of privilege and revel is the best of things, whereas Poppy and John keep afloat.
Poppy in particular is resentful of those with ‘more’.
Poppy could feel a familiar and deeply unpleasant volatility stirring inside her. Being around rich people made her feel small and precarious. It made her want to be mean. p 12
Despite having ‘less’ materially, Poppy and John are obviously happier together and Lisa admits to us that—though she doesn’t envy their lifestyle—she’s slightly resentful of their relationship.
But instead she was finding Poppy’s radiant energy cruel in the way it illuminated her own misery. Poppy was living a good life—that was undeniable. It wasn’t a life that Lisa desired, at least not on its surface, not that husband or that tax bracket. It was Poppy herself who had something Lisa desperately wanted…
This is what Lisa wanted most. She wanted to be sure she was living the right life….
She wanted to stop feeling that somehow she’d gotten confused, fallen off course, and the right path had vanished altogether. She wanted to stop feeling like she was doomed, like all that lay before her were different wrong lives, and she was on the brink of committing herself to one of these seriously wrong lives for the rest of her days, leaving no possibility for escape or a redo. Lisa didn’t want to feel that she was on the brink. pp 96-97
I have to admit, though I wasn’t overly fond of Lisa (as a person… and yes I know she’s not real, though Kauffman obviously did a good job with her character!!!) I could understand her fear of having taken the wrong path and uncertainty whether pursuing will take her further from contentment.
I don’t think I’m really offering any spoilers by mentioning that we soon realise that our narrator is obviously someone we meet during the families’ visit to Fripp Island. Whether it’s one of the two women or three daughters we’re not sure. And of course we meet other locals, so Kauffman keeps us guessing.
I assume I requested this book for review because I love a good mystery, but in many ways this is a study of families and relationships. Both functional and dysfunctional.
We’re also exposed to two very different sibling relationships and we’re told Lisa and Poppy were akin to sisters themselves when younger. Indeed now, Poppy (who remains in their childhood hometown) is playing the role of daughter to Lisa’s sick mother.
There’s a strong sense of the gulf between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. It’s more about having money, rather than ‘class’ though I’d suggest. It’s most evident with Lisa and Poppy, who grew up together in similar circumstances, but whose lives diverged significantly… and then their values (also) as a result.
And of course there are secrets and misunderstandings. Scott’s obviously hiding something and Lisa has her suspicions. Poppy tries to support her friend but Lisa seems to prefer the acrimonious relationship she’s putting her family through rather than lose what she has lifestyle-wise.
As a result there’s also a sad sense of misjudgement and badly formed assumptions. Although Kauffman keeps us guessing on the specifics, we readers can see what’s coming but are powerless to stop it.
In many ways the tragic events of this book result from misunderstandings; from things said; and actions taken, without consideration of the consequences. And that’s really kinda sad.
The House on Fripp Island by Rebecca Kauffman was published by Serpent’s Tail and is now available.
I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.