In my lexicon, “beach read” is perjorative, signifying a piece of fluff that requires no work, has little payoff and is devoured by readers who have the attention span of a gnat with ADD. You know – stuff published by Kensington. Occasionally, however, I run across a memorable book that is a delight to read, has a great payoff and fits perfectly in the beach bag. Alan Chin’s “Island Song” is such a beach read.
Writer Garrett Davidson isolates himself in a desolate Hawaiian beach shack to write a cathartic memoir of himself and his late partner, Marc. Enter native boy Songoree, the housekeeper/cook who goes with the shack. And also enter Songoree’s grandfather, a Hawaiian shaman who believes Garrett to be just the man to help him spread his mystic gospel. Songoree and Garrett become an item, much to the chagrin of Songoree’s surfer buddies and the local Christian reverend, who insult paradise with their homophobia. Oh, and there’s a terrific shark attack, too.
Chin handles all these plot elements like a pro, building the love story between Garrett and Songoree slowly, mixing in the memoir and tossing Grandfather and his aphorisms in at just the right time. And then there’s the sense of place … Unlike the last island book I read (see “Kuta Bubbles” by Alan Brayne), this one puts me right on the beach smelling the sea breeze and feeling the sand between my toes. And Chin’s description of Songoree’s cooking is … well, I gained ten pounds in the first three chapters alone.
Of course the ending is happy. I would have felt cheated otherwise, but I don’t consider telling you that spoiling it. The fun here is in the journey and the terrific side trips Chin has chartered, like the aforementioned shark attack, a chilling episode you’re not sure will end well, and a retaliatory bar fight where we do hit back for once. No more mister nice gay – HRC are you listening?
All in all, “Island Song” is a well-written romance with some interesting twists and fully realized characters driving the plot. The only drawback is that you may have to spend some extra treadmill time at the gym after reading about Songoree’s meals. That rice really packs on the pounds.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler