A tale that begins in innocence in Nags Head on the Outer Banks of North Carolina ends in violence just three years after the end of the Civil War. Abigail Sinclair’s summer on the island ushers in her maturity as the seventeen-year-old is introduced to the “Bankers” who inhabit Nags Head and the Freedman’s Colony on Roanoke Island, where a number of ex-slaves have made their home in a country still seething with the resentment between the North and the South.
While Abigail is an innocent, her bookish mother is bitter, and her father, Nolan, flirting with the opportunity for violence with the Ku Klux Klan. When Nolan demands his daughter teach local fisherman Benjamin Wimble, nineteen, to read from the De Foe’s popular adventure novel Robinson Crusoe, the girl is at first appalled by the young man’s shabby appearance and lack of social skills. Predictably enough, love follows this rocky beginning, Abigail’s cultural horizons broadened as the unlettered Ben explains the realities of war and prejudice.
While Ducharme describes a time of great social unrest in a setting where nature dominates the environment, her depth of characterization falls short. Events propel the final denouement without a sufficient explanation of who the residents of this place really are, other than the obvious stereotypes. The wealthy-by-island-standards Sinclairs are, in fact, near bankruptcy, but to those who experience real poverty, the family’s situation is enviable.
Unfortunately, even the unsuitability of Abigail’s attachment to Benjamin does not produce the steam promised by a doomed romance and a horrific act of violence that leads to Abigail’s awakening. Like the sand blowing on the dunes and the waves lapping the shore, much of this novel merely skims the surface.