Fortune Island reads like a series of interlocking stories. It begins with Bill McQueen, a young marine who fights during WWII and suffers a head injury. He returns home to North Carolina to be with his young daughter and his wife, Susannah. Bill’s doctor wants him to take it easy, but Bill has a family to support. In chapter three, Bill is jailed for an armed robbery attempt, though the reader is told that it was a setup and he is innocent. Will Susannah be able to free him? And if not, how will Susannah, a 1940s housewife, be able to provide for herself and their child now that Bill is locked away? These are certainly enough questions to keep the reader turning the pages.
Too weak for factory work, Susannah takes in a boarder, Reverend Cogburn, to support her family. For me, the most interesting parts of the novel are the sections that reveal how the cruel Cogburn interacts with Susannah and her daughter, Jessie. Susannah needs Cogburn for financial reasons and even accepts his hand in marriage as a way to ensure the survival of her family. I wanted to know more about this relationship. I wanted more scenes of their family life. However, the narrative leaps back and forth in different locales from the dawning of the twenty-first century in Germany to 1940s North Carolina to 21st century New York. Though I did enjoy the book, I wish the author would’ve told the entire thing in the North Carolina setting. I think the most interesting characters are those that we see in that setting. Instead of focusing on Cogburn, Susannah, Bill, and young Jessie, we are occasionally taken away from their story to focus on events and characters that I didn’t find quite as compelling.
A showdown between Jessie and Cogburn unfolds at the end of the story. Both characters are clearly insane by this time. Jessie is trapped in a childlike state and Cogburn is as vile and despicable as ever. I think that the last scene between them is a big enough pay-off for those who invest the time in reading the narrative.
Fortune Island is short and to the point, less than 300 pages. The writing is clear and concise. Though the novel switches locations and time periods quite frequently, I was never confused about where I was or what was happening.
At first I thought that Fortune Island would read like a romance. The beautiful island setting and the descriptions of pretty women and broad, brave war heroes are certainly enough details to make it romantic. It seems to speak of the 1940s with a wistful nostalgia that is similar in nature to period romances like Casablanca. However, Fortune Island is not a pure romance. It’s much more honest than the average romance novel. There is no happily ever after or a big reunion scene at the end. The novel is about love lost and about making choices because they are convenient.
Fortune Island is available online at Amazon.com and BN.com.