Return to Sullivans Island: A Novel (Lowcountry Tales)
by Dorothea Benton Frank

Published: 2010-04-27
Mass Market Paperback : 384 pages
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“Her books are funny, sexy, and usually damp with seawater.”< ?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

—Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides


In Return to Sullivans Island, Dorothea Benton Frank revisits the enchanted landscape of South Carolina’s Lowcountry made famous in her beloved New York Times bestseller ...

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“Her books are funny, sexy, and usually damp with seawater.”< ?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

—Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides


In Return to Sullivans Island, Dorothea Benton Frank revisits the enchanted landscape of South Carolina’s Lowcountry made famous in her beloved New York Times bestseller Sullivans Island. Frank focuses on the next generation of Hamiltons and Hayes, earning high praise from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which writes, “Frank brings to vivid life the rich landscape and its unpretentious folks….A reader need only close her eyes for a moment to feel that thick-sticky heat, smell the wild salt marshes.” If you enjoy getting lost in the works of Anne Rivers Siddons, Rebecca Wells, and Pat Conroy—novels brimming with atmosphere and strong Southern charm—you are going to love Dotty Frank’s Return to Sullivans Island.

Editorial Review

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Chapter One: Beth
Her plane circled the Lowcountry. Acres upon acres of live oaks stood beneath them, guardians festooned in sheets of breezy Spanish moss. They passed over the powerful waters of the Wando, Cooper and Ashley Rivers and hundreds of tiny rippling tributaries that sluiced their way in tendrils toward the Atlantic Ocean. It was so beautiful, all the shimmering blue water, that seemed to be scattered with shards of crystals and diamonds. Beth's heart tightened. Every last passenger stared out through their windows at the landscape below. Whether you were away from the Lowcountry for a week or for years, it was impossible to remember how gorgeous it was. It never changed and everyone depended on that. Seeing it again was like seeing it for the first time – hypnotic. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the Publisher:

1. Sullivans Island and the Island Gamble are very special to Dorothea Benton Frank and her characters. What does the island and their beloved home mean to the Hamilton and Hayes families? What does it mean to Beth? Do you have a special place-or a special retreat-of your own? If not, what kind of "Island Gamble" would you want? What would you call it?

2. When she returns from college in Boston, Beth remarks on how Sullivans Island has changed. Has your own hometown changed? If so, how? How do you feel about those changes?

3. When she arrives on Sullivans Island, Beth has some interesting thoughts about the place. "In her heart she felt the island really belonged to her mother's generation and those before her." BY the novel's end, do you think Beth has made her own claim to the island? Why?

4. The Hamilton/Hayes are extraordinarily close. What benefits does such closeness offer? Can there be a downside to being so close? How does this closeness influence Beth as she grows into a woman? How does Beth see her family and her role in it? What factors influence her viewpoint? How does distance affect her perspective: both her own, going to college in Boston, and her mother Susan's when she goes to Paris?

5. Beth also muses about her family: "The last four years had prepared her to live her own life, independent of her tribe. Isn't that why she went to college a thousand miles away in the first place?" Is that the purpose of college? Is Beth more or less independent by the story's end?

6. Describe Beth's relationship with the women in her life: her mother, Susan, her aunts Maggie and Sophie, her friend Cecily, even her editor Barbara Farlie, their importance to her and how they shape her.

7. Determined to do her duty to the family, Beth's "intention was to avoid any and all controversy and every kind of chaos." Why does it seem that the best of intentions often go awry?

8. Beth was long wary of intimacy with men. "In her mind there was nothing more dangerous that what her mother called love." How does this mindset affect her when she meets Max Mitchell? Discuss Beth's affair with him. Why is she attracted to him?

9. What does Beth think about Woody Morrison? How do her relationships with Max and Woody contrast? What does each man offer her?

10. Beth and Susan both lost their fathers at a young age. How does this loss color different aspects of their lives?

11. Susan had always dreamed of living in Paris, but circumstances cut her stay short. Yet Susan isn't disappointed. Why? Is it always better to realize our dreams? Is there a benefit in leaving some unfilled?

12. Dorothea Benton Frank has a gift for bringing the wild beauty and magic of the Lowcountry to life. How do you picture the Lowcountry? Is it a place you'd like to visit? If you have been there, how do your impressions compare to those in the novel?

13. One of the charms of the Island Gamble is that it is haunted. Do you believe in ghosts? Have you had any interesting experiences with the supernatural?

14. The author touches on the subject of race with grace and compassion. As Beth enjoys her close friendship with Cecily she thinks of the strictures placed upon her mother and Cecily's grandmother, Livvie. How else have changing social mores freed us over the years?

15. Family, independence, love, marriage, race, heartbreak, acceptance, trust, and change, are all themes interwoven in the novel. Using examples from the book, explain the role of each and how they evolve in the story's arc.

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub


Why and Why Now?

By Dorothea Benton Frank

The world is blowing up around us. Retirement accounts have evaporated; people can't even afford their own divorce. Wall Street, the housing crisis, credit markets, Detroit, scams, unemployment and the accompanying terrors of it all! I have been so bombarded with bad news. I am certain my readers have been too. So, how can we make ourselves feel better? One answer is to escape through a book to revisit a funky little sandbar like Sullivans Island, a place steeped in history and populated with the kind of characters Tennessee Williams would have loved to have known.

This enchanted island is a place where what you have is enough, where shiny things don't matter and your grandmother's wooden spoon is a treasure to hold. Like Oz, the greens are greener, edges are sharper and the water and sky are impossible shades of blue. Flip flops and sandals are the only shoes you need and the fragrance of homegrown tomatoes and jasmine in bloom takes your breath away. You can eat fish that was swimming that morning. Watch a sunset so spectacular you'll be brought to tears. Walk the beach at night pondering the Milky Way overhead. Sit on the dark porch of the Island Gamble and sort out your life with old friends. These are just a few of the things RETURN TO SULLIVANS ISLAND offers to save us from the dreary outside world.

And then there's family. In RETURN TO SULLIVANS ISLAND I plucked the daughter of the protagonist, Susan Hamilton Hayes from the original story and dropped her front and center in the sequel. Watch and see what happens when Beth's whole family averts their eyes to pursue their own dreams and she is left to come of age in a hurricane of her own making. Fortunes are at risk, hearts are broken, disaster strikes. But the magic of the island and the spirits of their ancestral home bring them all back together as the power of their love for one another finds forgiveness and healing.

Why would I write a sequel to SULLIVANS ISLAND, perhaps my most popular book, knowing sequels can be the kiss of death? I wrote RETURN TO SULLIVANS ISLAND because I adore the place, I have missed those characters and I believe with all my heart they still have lessons to teach us. And because, in these challenging times, I wanted to give my readers a story I hope they will all love because success is not always measured in money. You'll be the judge of that.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Dottie can do better!"by Jeannie W. (see profile) 08/18/09

Having read many of DBF's novels, I was extremely disappointed in Return to Sullivan's Island!
This was a fluff book.....not in Frank's usually eloquent style. Maybe a beach read, but not
... (read more)

  "Not one of her best!"by Laura N. (see profile) 08/18/09

While the book kept my interest until the end I just did not think that this was one of Ms. Frank's best works. Knowing that she can do so much better I was disappointed. It's an o.k. read for the summer... (read more)

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