Chapter 16
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Tree of Dreams

Karen White’s latest novel serves up escapist fare with a low-country flair

“As soon as I caught the redolent scent of the marsh and saw the first roadside sign advertising butter beans and bait,” says Larkin Lanier, the protagonist of Karen White’s new novel, Dreams of Falling, “I knew I’d traveled much farther than the six hundred or so miles separating me from New York. Whoever said you could always go home again had never met my family.”

Photo: Marchet Butler

Karen White is a New York Times-bestselling author of more than twenty novels. Her latest ticks the boxes for a perfect summer read: evocative setting, tragic romance, unsolved mystery, and family drama.

When her mother is injured in an accident, Larkin reluctantly returns to South Carolina, where she is forced to face the family and friends she abruptly left behind after high school. Heartbroken and betrayed, she has worked hard to make a new life for herself, but she soon finds that her secrets are not the only ones that lie buried beneath the high humidity and Spanish moss of this small coastal community.

Larkin’s mother, Ivy, was raised by her late mother’s best friends, Ceecee and Bitty, after a suspicious fire claimed her mother’s life. Years later, as Larkin settles in to wait for her own mother to regain consciousness, she realizes there are questions about her unusual family circle that she has never thought to ask—questions whose answers she may not want to face. What really happened the night her grandmother died? Why was her mother—melancholy and distant all Larkin’s life—so eager to contact her just before her own accident? Who are Ceecee and Bitty protecting by their silence?

The clues all point back to Carrowmore, the family rice plantation on the North Santee River. But the antebellum mansion, gutted by the fire and never rebuilt, is not the only historical landmark there. “Nobody knew when or how a narrow opening in the trunk of an old oak tree on the river at the edge of the property had become known as a special place for storing dreams, a kind of thin place that acted as a conduit to the other side,” Ceecee remembers. But inside the tree, locals have always placed the desires of their hearts, as well as their secret shames.

As Larkin works to sort out her family’s past, she must also make peace with the ghosts of her own past and with her mother’s spirit, which hovers somewhere between life and death: “I drift higher and higher toward the ceiling every day, but I never leave this room,” Ivy thinks from her hospital bed. “Something is tethering me to this life, to the lives of those who come and visit.” It might be the web of secrets that surrounds her—”or maybe it’s just a chance to come to a place of higher understanding. Of forgiveness.”

In Dreams of Falling, Karen White casts a spell of low-country charm over this immersive tale as she weaves together multiple narrative voices and shifts in time and place to reveal choices made decades earlier that bring Larkin to a crossroads in her own life and in the lives of her loved ones. “When I was a little girl, my daddy said I bled salt water; it was in my veins. Maybe that was why I didn’t go back more than once a year,” she thinks. “Maybe I was afraid I’d be sucked in by the tides, my edges blurred by the water. There was more than one way a person could drown.”

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