I was thrilled to be invited to an afternoon tea in Covent Garden at the end of last year celebrating the forthcoming fiction for Orion in 2019. You can see all about that event here.
One of the books I was lucky enough to bring home was Cape May by Chip Cheek and I’m delighted to be reviewing it today.
Cape May is published by Orion imprint Weidenfield and Nicholson today, 30th April 2019, and is available for purchase through the links here.
Henry and Effie, young newlyweds from Georgia, arrive in Cape May, New Jersey, for their honeymoon. It’s the end of the season and the town is deserted. As they tentatively discover each other, they begin to realize that everyday married life might be disappointingly different from their happily-ever-after fantasy.
Just as they get ready to cut the trip short, a decadent and glamorous set suddenly sweep them up into their drama – Clara, a beautiful socialite who feels her youth slipping away; Max, a wealthy playboy and Clara’s lover; and Alma, Max’s aloof and mysterious half-sister.
The empty beach town becomes their playground, and as they sneak into abandoned summer homes, go sailing, walk naked under the stars, make love, and drink a great deal of gin, Henry and Effie slip from innocence into betrayal, with irrevocable consequences that reverberate through the rest of their lives…
My Review of Cape May
Henry and Effie’s honeymoon will be more than they could have imagined.
Cape May is a brilliantly written sensuous, and sensual, portrait of a completely hedonistic and sybaritic lifestyle that both fascinated and slightly repulsed me! It reminded me so much of The Great Gatsby but with greater carnality, and some readers might find the sexual references too frequent or graphic for their tastes, but I thought they were essential in creating the atmosphere. I felt Chip Cheek conveyed the brittle, sparkling veneer of a rotten and corrupt lifestyle in a manner that filled me with admiration. I actually felt quite tainted by events and almost voyeuristic of them at times. This is such effective writing because Chip Cheek made me experience first hand some of the emotions Henry in particular feels. Much of this effect comes through the taut, precise prose and imagery. There is, for example, great power and excitement in the crashing waves on the beach, but there’s also huge threat too so that disaster is never very far away.
The frenetic desire to enjoy life demonstrated by the claustrophobic quintet of Alma, Effie, Henry, Clara and Max has a feeling of desperation that made me glad of my mundane and monogamous lifestyle. For all the drinking, sexual activity and partying, I felt an underlying sadness for each of the characters. They seemed so real that I felt sorry for them in their pursuit of happiness and fulfilment. Reading Cape May made me wonder how much we every truly know those closest to us and how and why their lives turn out as they do.
The atmosphere of the setting, of Cape May and the empty, off season houses, vibrated with menace so that I fully expected an implosion at any moment. The vacant houses represented the vacant souls of the characters for me in a way I found surprisingly moving. I loved the way the book ended because it conveyed so perfectly the way in which a moment or decision can affect an entire life.
Cape May is a book I suspect will polarise readers. References to sexual acts and body parts may not suit all, but never did I feel they were inappropriate or gratuitous. In Cape May Chip Cheek is taking the reader on a voyage of self-discovery with Effie and Henry and the journey isn’t always a comfortable one.
I thought Cape May was sensitively and honestly written, atmospheric and affecting. I suspect I’ll be thinking about it for some time.
About Chip Cheek
Chip Cheek’s stories have appeared in The Southern Review, Harvard Review, Washington Square, and other journals and anthologies. He has been awarded scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Tin House Summer Writers’ Workshop, and the Vermont Studio Center, as well as an Emerging Artist Award from the St. Botolph Club Foundation.
He lives in El Segundo, California, with his wife and baby daughter.