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Marcia Peck
Water Music: A Cape Cod Story
Marcia Peck, author
Water Music, a family saga told through the eyes of twelve-year-old Lily Grainger, captures both a post-WWII Cape Cod--its beaches, salt backwaters, tides, wind and weather--and a family trying to navigate financial difficulties, loyalty issues, and complicated family ties. Eleven-year-old budding musician, Lily Grainger, encamped with her family on a Cape Cod salt pond during the summer of 1956, longs to capture her mother’s love and attention. In her struggle to help relieve the rancor in her parents’ marriage, Lily draws on her weekly cello lessons as well as her love for a pre-Kennedy Cape Cod infused with beach plums, cormorants, stranded pilot whales, a decommissioned Liberty Ship, and the shipwreck of the Andrea Doria. As Lily discovers the small ways in which people try to rescue each other, she must find the courage to venture beyond the relative safety of her salt pond to enter the larger sphere of the open ocean. Throughout, music plays a central role in defining both Lily’s inner world and the outer world of this peninsula, “fragile as a piecrust, adrift far out to sea.”
In this masterful family drama, debut novelist Peck delivers an eleven-year-old girl’s account of her beloved parents’ subtle power struggles. Immersed in the beauty of a 1956 Cape Cod summer, Lily Grainger yearns for the approval and affection of her family. As her father oversees the building of a home they can’t afford and extended family members interfere, tensions between him and Lily’s bitter mother escalate from bickering to outright tempests, much to their children’s anxiety. Across the pond, the lives of her cousin, aunt, uncle, and “another woman” vibrantly color Lily’s daily life. Amid the tumult, Hurricane Carolyn approaches the vulnerable peninsula, threatening the house construction and family harmony.

Peck acknowledges that many of the novel’s moments mimic her own life, such as summers spent on the Cape and her love of the cello. This memoir-style authenticity yields exceptionally original characters who entertain the reader with their complexity and humor, influence Lily’s choices, and set Peck’s novel above others. Vivid descriptions of Lily’s home and landscape stir yearning for a long-gone, untouched Cape Cod: “Seaweed, washed ashore by winter tides, bearded the beach.” Seemingly ordinary daily activities take on fresh interest with the backdrop of simmering family tension as the house construction progresses.

The gorgeous yet readable writing style situates the narrative squarely in the sophisticated up-market genre of literary fiction. Subtle irony infuses Lily’s point of view as she observes her feuding loved ones. Nuggets of wisdom bring the poetic style immediacy while still expressing a tween girl’s outlook: “I wondered why, when you hold your breath, your heart doesn’t stop beating.” Lily’s longing for her parents’ validation and her dawning maturity will warm hearts as much as the writing style will impress lovers of literary fiction.

Takeaway: Lush, memory-driven story of family life in mid-century Cape Cod.

Comparable Titles: Vendela Vida’s We Run the Tides, Mary Petiet’s Wash Ashore.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A