...eminently readable ... Billed as a cross between The Great Gatsby and Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, for once the marketing blurbs seem accurate, in plot and theme if not quite in terms of the writing ... Their opening-up to each other is tenderly depicted by Creek, whose sensual writing brings immediate intimacy with his characters and their situation ... In his debut Creek makes good use of the Cape’s emptiness in off-season. The eerie landscape that threatens to ruin the honeymoon turns into an lawless playground ... Creek’s success is that the tension of his book lies not just in the promise of an affair between Henry and Alma but also in watching Effie, albeit through her husband’s eyes, draw ever closer to the hedonism ... The latter half of the book is given over to the affair, written brilliantly by Creek ... Creek is also good on the hypocrisies of the era, the double standards ... While a flash-forward technique at the book’s end feels like a bit of a cheat, it shows the repercussions of betrayal over decades.
The worry from the start of Chip Cheek’s debut Cape May is that the story is going to be an exercise in hindsight moralizing ... But a few things help Mr. Cheek dodge the shoals of cliché. First is his beguiling, undemonstrative writing style. The parties are raucous affairs but Mr. Cheek portrays them from a calm remove ... He wields the same observational control over the sex scenes, which are plentiful and, against the odds, extremely well done. It’s the spell of sexual desire rather than the era’s social mores that interests Mr. Cheek ... A dozy, luxurious sense of enchantment comes over the story ... Cape May does something better than critique or satirize: It seduces.
...this is no soft-focus coming-of-age story ... Mood drives the story—the empty beach town exudes a barely hidden sense of threat, of the unknown lurking everywhere ... betrayals are at the core of what happens at Cape May, but, beyond that, this remarkable debut novel offers a sobering reminder of how the possibilities of life, when first encountered, often carry their own riptide.
The atmosphere Cheek builds in this novel lays the groundwork for the dread that builds relentlessly from the moment the newlyweds encounter Clara and Max ... In Henry and Effie, Cheek has created a portrait of innocence, but the villains, in the end, are not the debauched New Yorkers. The capacity to ruin what is good and true resides even in the purest souls. This sexy, captivating novel is a masterfully plotted and beautifully written marital and emotional trainwreck, in the best way.
From a well-crafted opening and smoothly written scenes, the narrative turns increasingly to its primary subject — the pull of eros and its consequences, explicitly described. While Cheek can be deft with these scenes, the book too often sinks into erotic schlock ... There are two older, wealthy, heavy-drinking, questionable characters — Clara and Max — who are hard to like from the start. By the end, this debut novel has no main character — not even the youthful, alcohol-fueled honeymooners — who is genuinely likable.
What initially seems like a quick beach read quickly turns into something much darker ... This is a steamy novel, no doubt about it, and the unlikable characters make the sensuality seem that much more depraved and reckless in a 'can’t look away' kind of way. I cannot say for sure whether I liked any of the characters or supported their actions, but I could not stop reading ... Cheek is a solid writer, that much is certain. His portrayal of Cape May feels like a character in and of itself, and I am sure I will not be alone in saying that I craved the crisp coolness of a gin and tonic while reading this book ... Cheek’s writing is atmospheric, and his setting is positively tangible, but I wanted a bit more in terms of character development. It is one thing to write unlikable characters --- a trope that I love in books --- but the denizens of Cape May felt flat and unmotivated ... a quick, fun read, and the erotica is nicely metered out --- but ultimately it feels a bit inconsequential ... As much as I love a quick read, this is one book that I would have liked to see a bit more fleshed out.
... exquisitely-paced, erotically-charged ... what unfolds in this compact novel is a strange and delirious exploration of power and sexuality that reads, at times, like a fevered dream ... Cheek deftly creates tension by depicting scenes where the five main characters are always speaking in innuendo and half-truths ... In the final fifty pages, these tensions are gloriously exploited to full effect, and the prose — always tight and spare — carries us along for the ride ... as a reading experience, is every bit a seduction in and of itself, and the novel, among its many delights, announces the arrival of a blistering new talent. Chip Cheek brilliantly explores the limits of marriage, of monogamy, and of a certain kind of staunch and superficial American masculinity that still persists today, more than half a century later.
[A] strong debut ... Cheek does a good job with his cast; Henry and Effie are finely drawn and their slide from innocence starkly depicted. The novel’s ending is particularly startling—a memorable final note in this cogent examination of marital infidelity and betrayal.
Cheek’s scenery is luxuriant, and his cast chews it adeptly ... The troupe’s before-the-fall glory works in service of a seeping expositional intrigue—but aren’t these waning, languorous days of summer, dear reader, exactly what you came for? The Victorians are well-furnished, the dialogue well-paced, and we’re absolutely privileged with the company of our dazzling visitors ... Cheek lends a keen eye and deft touch to ensemble scenes. Players make graceful introductions and veer from suspects to confederates over the course of succinct conversation ... Fitzgerald looms as a hazy reference point above books like this, and Cheek performs faithful homage without stooping to insipid karaoke. Each of Cape May’s vividly sketched beau monde carries uncertain baggage, and as it’s a novel rather than a still life...Cheek doesn’t contort himself in exhibitions of hypermasculine poetry or heady philosophy, but flexes a whole battery of narrative stops. For all their smartly evoked mid-century refinery, the characters’ animal impulses are wholly unvarnished. In a subtle, even Fitzgeraldian tragic turn, Henry becomes a victim of his own ruin ... Cheek executes considerable characterization in passing. Cape May’s characters do not have interior lives; it’s summer, go play outside. The narration, a third-person limited loosely if noncommittally restricted to Henry’s perspective, stumbles in spots but proves strategic as his affair unfolds. He and Effie are an earnest if not entirely naive couple, their marriage a product of cultural and regional expectations. Via Cheek’s breezy descriptors they are rendered raw, likeable, and frustratingly human ... a fine novel of leisure which relies on touchstones for its resonance but invention for its luster, a sure-handed debut which doesn’t mire itself in asides or neuroses. Henry and Effie are beautiful and pure in the manner of all young lovers; in them Cheek captures a zeal for life and wariness of overindulgence. In youth’s cocktail hour gloaming, even betrayal is glamorous.
Deceptively relaxed and simple at first, the novel seems to be an easygoing trip down Memory Lane. It soon reveals itself as a swirling vortex of psychological suspense with insights about marriage that recall writers like Margot Livesey and Alice Munro. The 1950s setting, the pellucid prose, and the propulsive plot make this very steamy debut novel about morality and desire feel like a classic.