I think by now we can all agree that any novel stamped “Oprah Book Club” should come with an adjoining pack of Puffs Plus kleenex. The media dominatrix likes her Spanx tight and her literature sappy. One need only look at her cannon-o-tear-jerkers—White Oleander, where the mother of a 12-year-old girl poisons her boyfriend with (spoiler alert) oleander sap; She’s Come Undone, where tween Dolores Price gets raped by a neighbor then spirals into clinical obesity; and Elie Wiesel’s Night about his survival of Auschwitz and Buchenwald—to note a theme: crazy ass sad. Seriously, look at her list and tell me it’s not being subsidized by Zoloft.
So it was with some trepidation that I opened Oprah-okay’d The Light Between Oceans a few weekends ago while staying at my mother-in-law’s. Not one to be sans reading material, I’d somehow arrived for the four-day stay with six pairs of socks, three wool garments (perfect for Charleston’s 78-degree September weather), and no book. But, no worries, mixed between her exquisite decorative glass and antique artifacts, my mother-in-law houses a solid library. She pulled out M.L. Stedman’s debut and said it had been a recent pick of her book club. So I snagged it (like food, I’m willing to try anything). And an hour later, I was hooked.
Stedman’s tale takes us to post-WWI Australia where we observe the life of Tom Sherbourne, a lighthouse keeper. Tom has a fraught past mixed by memories of his father kicking his mother out of the home when he was just a boy to flashbacks to his service on the front in France. But with some coaxing he comes to find love in a young woman living back on the mainland. The two marry, move to Janus Rock island off the west coast of the continent and proceed to start a family. I'd finally found it—the elusive, uplifting Oprah-recommended read!
Act II. Cue waterworks. And action!
Try as they might, Sherbourne’s wife Isabel has miscarriage after miscarriage. Unable to bring a pregnancy full term she spirals into depression. Then one afternoon, while tidying up the grave sites of her wee ones lost, she hears a baby’s cry. Awash on the shore is a dingy containing a deadman and a very much alive baby. But what to do? As the keeper of the lighthouse it’s Sherbourne’s duty to document anything that comes ashore and alert proper authorities. But his wife is desperate to keep the child. So going against his ethical values, he scraps his report and the two begin to raise baby Lucy.
But then, a few years later, it's revealed that the baby Lucy’s mother is alive! On the mainland! And has never given up hope that her child might have survived! Sherbourne’s moral code is shook. He sends the mother an anonymous note, the police are alerted, and plot twist, plot twist, plot twist, the family is arrested, baby Lucy is taken away, and I’m discovered by my husband sobbing on the living room sofa.
My husband: “Oh my god! Did something happen?”
Me: “They might never see baby Lucy again.”
My husband: “Do we know a Lucy?”
Me: “What? No, we—oh God it’s just so sad” (wipes nose on college sweater shirt continues crying jag).
My husband: (backs out of room, quietly escorting the dog out with him)
Damn it, Oprah. Foiled again!
Did I enjoy The Light Between Oceans? Well, yes, if pleasure is derived from twisting ones heart strings and biological clock cogs so taught you suddenly have an incomprehensible longing to birth a 1920s Australian orphan. If that sounds like your kind of a good time, by all means, pick up this paperback because while it may not come with the Puffs Plus, it is Oprah-approved which means—look under your seat: you get a cry and you get a cry and you get a cry.