Helen Walsh's 'The Lemon Grove' Is an Ideal Literary Beach Read

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All summer, people go on the quest to find the perfect "literary beach read," the elusive book that's sexy, insightful, and full of summer sun. Helen Walsh's The Lemon Grove (Doubleday) is it. A sensual novel that explores age, attraction, and family, it's the perfect book for the sand that won't make your mind melt with the temperature.

The novel centers on Jenn, a woman about to hit middle age who is struggling with the shifting dynamics of her family now that her teenage stepdaughter is acting out. Jenn loves Emma, and for years has thought of her as her own, but lately Emma has been growing more and more hostile and distant, so when she pleads with her parents to let her bring her boyfriend Nathan along on their annual family vacation to the island of Majorca, Jenn and her husband eventually give in. But when Nathan arrives, Jenn finds herself inescapably drawn to him, even knowing how forbidden it is.

The Lemon Grove doesn't shy away from the passion and sensuality in the story, but it also pays careful attention to the complicated relationships between its characters. Jennifer's attraction to Nathan is a central part of the book, but it not the only central force driving the story. Jennifer's relationship with her husband, her strained efforts to connect with her daughter, and her own self-perception are just as key. The book doesn't gloss over love scenes but it also dwells on small moments of emotional significance, from sitting on a shadowy porch watching people go by to the hurt a careless teenage remark can cause.

The book is a literary fiction fan's ideal vacation read — sexy, summery, but still smart. It might not make most people's list of all-time favorite novels, but it's a solid story with deeply immersive writing that will keep any lit-nerd happy on a beach. For one thing, it manages to capture to unreal sense of a vacation, the way in which, "under the glare of the sun, none of it seems real."

For another, the novel is short but engrossing. From the very beginning, Walsh is able to draw us into Jenn's world, her frustrations, her worries, her sense of being unseen and unappreciated — and her sudden, unexpected desires. The story has a small cast, but the relationships between them are so tangled and complicated it feels much larger.

The Lemon Grove is sexy, literary, and exciting. It's a solid read from start to finish, one that fits snuggly in a suitcase or a beach bag.