Late September 1957. Henry and Effie, very young newlyweds, arrive in Cape May for their honeymoon only to find the town is deserted. Feeling shy of each other and isolated, they decide to cut the trip short. But before they leave, they meet a glamorous set of people who sweep them up into their drama. The empty beach town becomes their playground, and as they sneak into abandoned summer homes, go sailing, walk naked under the stars, make love, and drink a great deal of gin.
...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.
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.