Pros: Some humorous banter
Cons: Slow start, No chapter breaks
At first glance, Rita Mae Brown's latest book, The Sand Castle, looks like a short book that can be read on your lunch break. While the book is 103 pages long, it is just over half the height of a typical hardcover novel with a 12 point font, so it looks like it's only 50 pages long, in comparison to most hardbacks. In actuality, one lunch break won't cut it on this one.
The events of The Sand Castle take place one late summer day in 1952. Eight year old Nickel (that's a girl), her mother Juts (Julia) and Juts's sister Wheezie (Louise) and Wheezie's grandson Leroy go to the beach to build the titular sand castle. Leroy's mother recently died a premature death, and Leroy has been withdrawn ever since. Juts and Wheezie have the goal of getting Leroy to open up a little, while Nickel is a bit jealous and just likes having someone to taunt, making all kinds of cracks to Leroy about how a bird is going to snatch up his "worm" (a euphemism for male genitalia that was new to me).
I really enjoyed the banter between Juts and Wheezie, as they remembered zany relatives and incidents from their past. Apparently, Brown has written about these sisters in other short stories, and I am sure that those would be quite entertaining, because with the chemistry she infuses between these two, I instantly felt like I knew them. For me, this was the best part of the book.
As I mentioned before, I originally thought I could read this through on a lunch break, which, for me, is while I nurse my infant and is usually lengthy. The story moves so slowly that it took me three "lunch breaks" to make it through this one because I never got sucked in. There are no chapter breaks, or even "middle of the page" breaks, so everytime I picked the book up to resume reading, I had to re-read a couple paragraphs to remind me where I was.
It also took me a little bit of re-reading to figure out exactly how Leroy fit into the family, because he kept calling Wheezie "aunt Wheezie." At first I thought his mother was another sister to Juts and Wheezie, but later in the story, Juts says something to Nickel about how hard it was for Wheezie to outlive her daughter, Leroy's mother, and then the light went off in my head. I'm not quite sure why Brown didn't clarify that up front.
The event in The Sand Castle is basically a memory, that a grown-up Nickel, who narrates, reflects on. According to the book jacket, the story's conflict happens when the sisters get into an argument, followed by a tragedy, but this happens so late into the book that it frustrated me. I kept waiting for the thing--whatever it was--to happen, and having to wait until the book was almost over to get to it was frustrating. Factor into this the lack of breaks, and you have one very dissatisfied reader.
In short, I think readers who are familiar with Brown's other works, particularly previous works, such as Six of One, that feature Juts, Wheezy, or Nickel, may enjoy this book. For other readers, I recommend looking for one of those other books and taking a pass on this one.