First-time Delaware novelist knocks one out of the park with “The Sea Sprite Inn”
There are thousands among us on the Eastern Shore who will read a book by a local author just because it’s a local author. Sometimes, quite frankly, that can be a labor of literary love, as well-intentioned dabblers do their level best to churn out 250 pages of narrative without the benefit of a professional book editor, copyeditor, line editor and the prodigious marketing machine of a fancy New York publishing house. Definitely an uphill battle. But, apparently, brand-new novelist and Delaware resident Lynnette Adair didn’t need such help with The Sea Sprite Inn, which is a tight, refreshing delight no matter where the author calls home.
Enter Jillian, our protagonist, an attractive and affable but beleaguered and embattled former corporate executive who found herself at the short end of an embezzlement fiasco after her then-husband absconded with company money without her knowledge. That she was the one who successfully documented the case against him may have won the respect and, to some extent, mercy, of her bosses, but it did not ultimately save her job.
When she goes down to Rehoboth Beach to visit her ailing grandfather, she also makes a pit stop by the ramshackle house where he’d raised her. Given the limbo of her career status, it seems like a pretty good idea when a local contractor recommends she restore and convert the home to a bed-and-breakfast. This would give her something productive to immerse herself in while licking the wounds of her defeat and, hopefully, launch a new revenue-producing career. Thus, The Sea Sprite Inn is born.
The business starts slowly, but thanks to Jillian’s hard work, good sense and money-management skill (she had been the comptroller for a law firm), word gets around, and the B&B catches on. Along the way, the reader is treated to a series of vignettes for the guests that who stroll her garden path — reminiscent of a landlubber Love Boat — each with a story to share.
One even includes a rather spooky tale of a young couple who ill-advisedly venture into the lighthouse at Cape May and emerge, more like flee, with more than they bargained for. As a backdrop to all of this, however, is another mystery of sorts, involving a forgotten box secreted under a floorboard that houses some intriguing contents, which cause Jillian to turn amateur sleuth between bouts of bed-making and biscuit-baking.
There is much about The Sea Sprite Inn to recommend it to virtually any reader. First, it demonstrates the flowing prose of a real novelist, as groomed meticulously by someone (likely Nancy Sakaduski of Cat & Mouse Press, whom the author effusively thanks in the acknowledgments) with professional-level copyediting skill (a real treat for the reviewer, who often finds himself wading through a minefield of grammar and punctuation errors that only belabor the effort to enjoy a story on its merits). The narrative flows fast and is elegantly written without being ponderous, pretentious or too self-aware.
But it’s even more than that. In a world that accepts prurient pulp like Fifty Shades of Grey as something approximating literature, The Sea Sprite Inn is sweet, sentimental and eminently human, without being saccharine or tedious. That the genteel motif of the B&B so perfectly suits the stories of the guests who stay there only adds to the evocative imagery, engendering a tapestry that catalyzes the imagination with snapshots of white, ivy-strewn pickets, lavender and hydrangea.
Don’t think for a second, though, that this is anything other than a cunningly homespun tale. Not only are there numerous references to local institutions like Beebe Hospital, Route 1, Inlet Road at the Indian River Marina, Thrasher’s fries, Jungle Jim’s, Dolle’s, the Purple Parrot and Browseabout Books, there’s even a cameo by local chef Hari Cameron, who stops by to whip up a special gourmet dinner for two at the Sea Sprite, adding even more local flavor — literally.
At the end of the day, as the burnished afternoon sun of Rehoboth Beach sinks into the ocean like a bright-orange gumdrop, The Sea Sprite Inn is a book for people who love people, kindness, decency and solid storytelling — all with a delightfully local patina that will remind you the wonderful place you’ve chosen to call home. After this uplifting literary sojourn, all I can say is: “Hey, Jillian… I’ll take a room for two, please.”
THE SEA SPRITE INN
By Lynnette Adair
230 pages (paperback)
Cat & Mouse Press (2016)