In Sea Point, Kate bartends at the Wharf, works at the library and schemes to win back her ex, while facing long-held resentments — namely, feeling overshadowed by her sister and annoyed that, despite stellar academic qualifications, she couldn’t attend the pricey prep school Miles and Ziggy did. This is something of a theme; there are copious mentions of elite colleges and what grades, scores and honors afforded various characters admission to them 16 years earlier.
Other plot threads, direct or implied: A developer is turning town properties into McMansions. Ziggy’s beloved father left the business in debt. Also, will Kate and her former best friend make up? Will Kate mature from a “pretentious, superficial, wannabe snob who only cares about being rich and popular”? Will she sleep with Miles or Ziggy (or both)? Will more characters who were once asked to model, “never actually modeled,” or just look like models (or actresses) arrive in Sea Point?
Onto the writing.
In “Rock the Boat,” characters don’t just talk. They “squawk,” “shriek,” “sneer,” “yelp,” “cluck,” “huff,” “stage whisper” and “quip facetiously.” Moonlight “glitters,” eyes “lock,” “grins” are “adorable,” “mischievous,” “sheepish.”
Arguably more grating than the clichés and hyperbole are lines that stand out for being clumsy or cloying: “That knowledge kept him free from the despondency pinching Kate’s shoulders up toward her ears and tunneling self-doubt through her brain like an apple core.” Or: “The stream of manifestations that poured from her fingertips culminated in a three-point plan to take her from Jersey Zero to New York Hero just in time for Nessie’s wedding.” And one more: “Life was devastating and heartbreaking and hard, but it was buoyed by love and dappled with both comic relief and joy where you least expected it. With enough sunlight and the right angle, shattered glass always glittered.”
Now, I’m no literary snob. I even (proudly!) hail from armpit New Jersey. But I need more sophisticated writing, as well as a protagonist more evolved than Kate Campbell, for a novel to land in my beach bag. Others surely will disagree, as books about returning home are appealing, and “Rock the Boat” doesn’t lack energy. And sophomore books are tricky. I’ll look forward to watching the evolution of Dorey-Stein in subject matter and presentation.