Since the publication of Rubyfruit Jungle in 1973, Rita Mae Brown has been a major American literary voice and a best-selling author. In The Sand Castle, she revisits some of her most unforgettable characters: sisters Juts and Wheezie Hunsenmeir, and Juts's precocious young daughter, Nickel.
It's August, 1952, and seven-year-old Nickel sets off for a day at the seashore with her mother, aunt, and cousin Leroy. Everyone's excited when they reach Chesapeake Bay--everyone except for Leroy, who is recently motherless and frightened of the world around him. Nickel delights in tormenting her cousin, but, as the group lounges on the beach and begins work on a magnificent sand castle, the sisters try to coax him out of his shell by telling stories about their own childhood trips to the shore. As the sun swings higher in the sky, Nickel's taunting of Leroy escalates, and the weight of family history between her mother and aunt rises to the surface--and then a crab bites Leroy, and they must all come together. It isn't until years later that Nickel can see that single day at the beach for what it truly was--a life-changing lesson about family and all the pleasure and heartbreak that comes with it.
The sly wit and generous humanity of Rita Mae Brown's writing has earned her a place in the hearts of millions of readers worldwide. In The Sand Castle, she explores human connection in its purest form, through the lens of the ageless Hunsenmeirs.
Feisty Southern sisters Juts and Wheezy, of bestselling author Brown's Six of One trilogy, are back and as irascible as ever. The story unfolds in a single summer day in 1952, when the two make a day-trip to the beach accompanied by Jut's seven-year-old daughter, Nickel, and Wheezie's grandson, eight-year-old Leroy, whose mother has recently died. The day's events are simple: a long drive to the beach, the building of an elaborate sandcastle, a spat between sisters, lunch at a crab shack, a sudden injury and the drive back home. Brown creates palpable tension throughout, largely with tightly constructed dialogue. Nickel's teasing of grieving Leroy foreshadows the small catastrophe to come, and her cruelty contrasts with Juts's awkward attempts to draw her newly religious sister, still mourning the death of her daughter (Leroy's mother), back into the world. When the four return from lunch, Leroy receives a wound that rivals his inner pain. The sisters' collective response and Leroy's eventual release into sadness shape the end of the day, but not of the novel: the final three paragraphs elevate this tale from bittersweet to heartbreaking. (July)
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July 07, 2008
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Excerpt from The Sand Castle by Rita Mae Brown
Louise pointed to the water, "Look at that." A school of small fish was jumping out of the water the sun turning their silver bodies red. They'd dive back churning the water.
"Wow," Leroy held the blanket to his chest.
"Gotta be a shark or something pushing them." Mother studied nature and could identify birds and birdsongs, animals, trees, wildflowers. She taught me these things, including the different cries for mating, defending territory, and the "just plain happy" cry, as she called it.
Leroy hugged the blanket tighter, "I'm not going in the water."
"Not now anyway. Sunrise is breakfast time for everyone and your little toes would look so tasty," Mother teased him.
"I'll keep my sneakers on," he solemnly replied.
Louise laughed bending down to kiss his cheek. "Don't do that. By the time the water warms up you'll be safe."
He nodded but clearly did not believe this.
"Who's hungry?" Mother took Leroy's blanket and spread it out.