Book review: ‘Ocracoke Between the Storms’
By Elizabeth Cook
“Ocracoke Between the Storms: A Story of Love and Healing on the Outer Banks,” by Edward P. Norvell, 281 pp. $15.95.
SALISBURY — At last Edward P. Norvell of Salisbury has explained — indirectly, at least — why he spends so much time on Ocracoke Island. The charms, resources and customs of life on this barrier island come through in Norvell’s third book, “Ocracoke Between the Storms: A Story of Love and Healing on the Outer Banks.”
At times, you can almost smell the salt air and taste the fresh scallops.
Norvell wraps island life around a love story. Grieving the loss of his wife in a traffic accident, 26-year-old Luke Harrison walks deep into the surf off Ocracoke with the end in mind. But life is not through with him yet. Longtime islander Hank Kilgo snatches Luke up and pulls him to safety on what is a new, foreign shore for Luke — a life of acceptance and fresh beginnings.
Readers in the Piedmont will notice the local touches Norvell includes in his main character’s early life. Luke’s estranged mother was a Cannon Mills worker, and he grew up in foster homes. He crossed the social divide by marrying Karen Coltraine, the daughter of a prominent Concord family with connections to the mill. After Karen’s death — and visitation at Whitley’s Funeral Home — Luke packed up and left the home they shared in Kannapolis.
As he settles into Ocracoke, Luke befriends the natives and starts working through his grief.
It’s a promising start for Luke and the novel.
Luke meets some unconventional people on the island, especially the young man with whom he eventually shares a camper, TMJ. That’s short for Thomas Michael Joiner, though the jaw disorder TMJ kept coming to this reviewer’s mind. Maybe that’s because there is an air of disorder around TMJ. A nudist whenever he can get away with it, TMJ lives a different kind of island life, most of it centered around his bedroom — the women he beds and the hours he spends online.
TMJ is meant to be the opposite of Luke, and in that he succeeds.
Naturally, there’s a lovely young woman who figures prominently in Luke’s new life, but someone comes between them — his late wife. When Karen comes to Luke in his dreams, he pledges to always need and love her. She replies:
“I love you too, Luke, but someday you will have to let go. You are too young and have too much life ahead of you,” she said with a sweet smile.
With its telling subtitle — “A Story of Love and Healing on the Outer Banks” — the story flows predictably from there.
The strongest element of “Ocracoke Between the Storms” is Norvell’s obvious affection for and knowledge of the island. He includes everything from Fourth of July fireworks over Silver Lake to beers at Howard’s Pub. He has spent enough time on Ocracoke to have felt its sense of community and respect for nature, two aspects of island life that figure prominently in the book. But at times the story takes away from the setting instead of bringing it to life. Real Ocracokers will recognize the landmarks, but will they be able to identify with these characters? Will they recognize themselves?
It would be good to see Norvell try another novel set on Ocracoke. Now that he’s gotten the young-people-having-fun story out of his system, perhaps he could take a different approach. What force pulls him and so many others back to this hard-to-reach place year after year? Norvell has shown us island life on the surface. What could he tell us if he went deeper?
Maybe that’s not the type of book he wants to write. Norvell is an attorney for nonprofit land trusts. For him, writing is a hobby. And he seems to be having fun doing it, setting each book in a different coastal city — “Portsmouth,” “Southport” and now “Ocracoke.” But it’s like describing the ocean as if you’ve only seen it from above. There may be much more Norvell could tell about the inhabitants and undercurrents of Ocracoke Island.
Norvell will sign copies of his book on Saturday, May 4, at Literary Bookpost, 110 S. Main St., 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.