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The Big Beautiful

The Bodacious Bookworms met in Raleigh August 21, 2007 to eat great pasta and discuss The Big Beautiful. Standing: Sara Gosnell, Debby Wapner, Grace Purtell, Lois Hall, Jackie Darden, Pat Morefield, Sue Harrison. Sitting: Elena Viso, Pamela Duncan, Tami Luckwaldt
First official readers on launch day, March 27, 2007: The O'Donoghue sisters--Edwina, Maura, Mary, Tricia, and Anne-- bask in the big beautiful while reading The Big Beautiful at Vanderbilt Beach, Florida on March 27, 2007.


The Crab Shack


On an eastbound North Carolina highway, the mountains and her home town far behind, Cassandra Moon realizes that she has not only broken the heart of the one man who's ever asked her to marry -- on their wedding day, no less -- but she's driven the limousine into the ground, gotten "skunk drunk" on champagne, and has somehow managed to get herself stuck in the sunroof while still in her wedding gown. Caught in a whirlwind of taffeta and tulle, heartache and second guesses, Cassandra desperately needs some peace of mind. When she arrives in the coastal town of Salter Path -- disheveled and in the company of a mysterious red-haired seafaring man -- Cassandra knows for sure that her life has taken a turn she can't quite understand. But the people Cassandra encounters on this unexpected odyssey will share with her the hurts and hopes of a lifetime, and she may finally realize that getting lost in this oceanside town, in the memories and dreams of its people, is the only way she'll be found.

* Some of you might wonder what ever happened to Hurricane Season. Well, this is it, now renamed The Big Beautiful.


“Jane Austen meets Mayberry: for once, a real romance, with a heroine worthy of it! Smart, sweet, and funny. This is one big, beautiful, life-affirming novel.” —Lee Smith

The Big Beautiful is beautifully written, complex, and comic, entertaining and unforgettable (as always). I read for the sheer joy of reading and completely lost track of time.”
—Michael Lee West

"It’s really a beautiful book. And I love the ending. Nice wrap up. It’s like pulling in the driveway after a long wonderful vacation, somebody’s got supper on the table, and you have another day off tomorrow."
-Kelly Jerome Duncan (a totally unbiased review from my brother) ;-)

"Duncan has a way with the pretty passages and sweet moments readers of inspirational women's fiction crave."
-Publisher's Weekly

"Duncan establishes herself as a consummate storyteller, skillfully blending pathos, wisdom, and wit.... This engaging tale of souls lost and found is perfect for fans of Rebecca Wells and Fannie Flagg."

"Calamity and comedy, tenderness and rage, and a mighty love are at the heart of this remarkable sequel to Moon Women. Readers will rejoice in the triumph of Duncan's beautifully rendered journey of self-discovery and boundless faith."
-Powell's Books


That baby girl ran to the ocean the same way she ran to somebody she loved, arms flung wide, mouth open and laughing, ready to grab the whole world and squeeze it all to her little self. Cassandra wished she wasn’t too old and fat to do likewise, but in her heart, in her heart she was running right alongside her little
great-niece. She followed her to the water, breathing deeply through her nose,taking in the smell of the beach.Was there anything better than that smell, and the feel of salt air and salt water on your skin?

Emma had only waded in up to her knees, but she was shivering, probably more from excitement than cold. It was still well over eighty degrees. Cassandra took Emma’s hand and pulled her back a few steps. The beach was steeper and the water rougher than at Emerald Isle, probably because it faced west instead of south. Cassandra didn’t much care for Carolina Beach, but it was a free weekend, thanks to her brother Marshall and her sister-inlaw Darlene.

They were up at the condo now with her sister Ruth Ann and niece Ashley. Up there laughing and talking and unpacking. She and Emma had different priorities. It was their first hour at the beach for heaven’s sake. There were more important things than unpacking.

Emma squealed and pointed to the sky. Cassandra followed her finger and saw a rainbow so pale it was nearly invisible. It started behind them in the direction of Wilmington and stretched way out over the ocean, ending in a big pile of white clouds on the
horizon. Rainbows always made her think of her mama, the only person she’d ever known who didn’t get excited about seeing one.

A bunch of pelicans flew low over the water. Fishing, Cassandra reckoned, so intent on their mission, they reminded her of fighter plane squadrons in those old movies about World War II. Seagulls screamed behind them and Emma jumped and grabbed Cassandra’s leg. Cassandra picked her up in one arm and turned to point at the gulls.“Them’s just seagulls,honey.Don’t be
scared.” A man was throwing bread from his deck and had about twenty gulls treading air over his head.

“Birds,” Emma said.

“That’s right, honey.”

Emma laid her head on Cassandra’s shoulder and Cassandra turned to face the ocean. The soft sound of waves whooshed around them, and Cassandra figured it wouldn’t be long before Emma conked out, all worn out from excitement. They ought to go in, but Cassandra couldn’t bear to, not yet. It was her favorite time of day and she wanted to watch the last light on the water, all the shades of blue and gray blending as evening slowly settled over the ocean.

A fish jumped out of a wave right in front of them and
Emma’s head popped up.“Fish!”she said,pointing.

“Yes.A big old fish.”

The last rays of light from the setting sun turned the water blue-green, and the fish looked like little silver shadows inside the waves. It was amazing how they kept going straight ahead even while the waves broke. Cassandra wondered what made them so determined to get wherever they were going. Instinct probably, something unexplainable.

No matter how many times she came down here, the one thing she never got over was the amount of life at the beach. She didn’t remember noticing it when she was younger. But now it jumped out at her everywhere, life all over the place, wild life and not so wild. All kind of birds and fish, and the little white-almost-clear crabs that watched you back, walking sideways across the sand and disappearing down a little bitty hole if you even breathed.

Coquinas and mole crabs and terns and skates and barnacles. They had a whole different vocabulary down here.All this life going on, things most people didn’t pay a bit of attention to. Too busy getting a tan or talking or swimming. Even the wind felt like a live thing here, always moving and changing and causing everything it touched to move and change too. Cassandra felt like anything could happen at the beach, like all she had to do was be patient and the wind would bring something her way, something unexpected but good, something that would change her life forever.

The Big Beautiful
Lyrics by Kelly Jerome Duncan

Verse 1
My life was empty, like old pier pilin’s:
Lonesome, washed out and bare.
No more than a painful reminder
Of a girl in the throes of despair.

Verse II
Then, out of nowhere, like sun from storm clouds,
Shining brightly and fair,
My red-haired love of a lifetime
Showed me something to live for out there.

The big beautiful ocean,
The big beautiful sky,
So big and so beautiful, my love,
For my love and I.

Verse III
And now when I wake up to face a new day,
With or without him, it’s clear,
My reason for living is greater,
And it’s always been waiting right here.

The big beautiful ocean,
The big beautiful sky,
So big and so beautiful, my love,
For my love and I.

© 2007 Kelly Jerome Duncan

An Ode to The Crab Shack

Due south of Morehead City, North Carolina, just across Bogue Sound, sits a thirty mile strip of sand called Bogue Banks, part of a chain of barrier islands making up the Southern Outer Banks. It’s better known to beach-lovers as Atlantic Beach, if you’re heading to the Eastern end, or Emerald Isle, if yo u’re going to the Western end. In the middle are the towns of Pine Knoll Shores and Indian Beach, and the unincorporated community of Salter Path.

Every September, at the height of hurricane season, my girlfriends and I go to Emerald Isle for two weeks at the beach, and there have been times the weather wasn’t the only volatile element. Five middle-aged women in the same house for two weeks – talk about scary. Which is why we have the Beach Rules: No men, no kids, no pets, no diets, and everybody takes their medications.

Of course, the “no diets” rule isn’t really necessary. It’s a given that at the beach we eat with reckless abandon, starting right down the road in Salter Path. Vacation cannot officially begin until we sit down in front of hush puppies and sweet tea at The Crab Shack and watch the sun set over Bogue Sound. There is nothing like the comfort of this down home fish camp for easing into the rhythm of life at the beach. We always go at least twice, usually more. But last year, Hurricane Ophelia not only cut our vacation short, it destroyed our favorite restaurant.

Without the big sign by the main road, most people would probably pass by The Crab Shack. It’s a small, one-story building tucked in between Homer Smith’s Seafood and Willis’s Seafood Market, right on Bogue Sound across the sandy parking lot from Salter Path Methodist Church. Inside, the dining room has windows on three walls, all with gorgeous views of the wide waters of the sound.

When Ophelia came, she tore off the back side of the restaurant and flooded the whole place. “It just beat us and beat us and beat us,” says Lori Garner. Her boyfriend, Vernon Guthrie, owns The Crab Shack. Like many island people, the Guthries make their living, one way and another, from the water. The family originally came from Diamond City, a whaling community on Shackleford Banks, but Diamond City is long gone and the Guthries have been in Salter Path for generations. Until 1976, Vernon was a fisherman like his daddy and granddaddy before him, and The Crab Shack was a seafood market. But when, as Vernon puts it, “seafood started going down so bad,” he and his mother, Rita Willis Guthrie, a Harker’s Island girl, decided to switch from catching to cooking.

In the early days The Crab Shack served steamed crabs and shrimp, the food most requested by weekend fishermen, but over time they added fried and grilled seafood, steaks, sandwiches, and beer and wine to the menu. Vernon’s mother supplied cooking know-how and recipes, including the secret recipe for the world’s best hushpuppies. “All I can tell you is there’s a lot of sugar in them,” Vernon said, “so they’re fattening.” I ha ve no doubt that if somebody analyzed my cellulite, they’d find the secret hushpuppy recipe.

Famous visitors to The Crab Shack include former North Carolina governor Terry Sanford, and former NC State basketball coach Jim Valvano, who loved the steamed crabs so much he had them delivered to Raleigh if he couldn’t come himself. But it’s really a place for regular folks, for families. Locals and tourists eat together and often the only way to tell the difference is by sunburns and accents.

Ophelia wasn’t the first storm to rip into The Crab Shack, and it probably won’t be the last, but Vernon and his two sons are rebuilding yet again, because, as he says, “One more time ain’t going to hurt.” The new place will be identical to the original, right down to the pictures and knick-knacks on the walls, which Lori rescued before Ophelia could take them. I remember two of these exhibits in particular: a photo of an old lady sitting up in bed, and a flower arrangement from a grave. The old lady is Alice Green Hoffman, a rich relation of Teddy Roosevelt; she once owned Salter Path. The flowers are from the grave of Vernon’s brother, who was known as Captain Buck. Though Alice is not kin, Vernon says she’s a part of their history, same as Buck. History still matters in Salter Path, which may explain why Vernon keeps turning down big-dollar offers for his property. There may come a time when storms, or taxes, change his mind, but for right now, come hell or high water, the Guthries and The Crab Shack ain’t going nowhere.

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