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Susannah Marren Talks Maribelle’s Shadow

Susannah Marren Talks Maribelle’s Shadow
Jun 28, 2023 · 13m 7s

Once again from the excess and folly of Palm Beach society, the novelist Susannah Marren has woven an intricate tapestry of secrets and foreboding. The third volume in her trilogy...

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Once again from the excess and folly of Palm Beach society, the novelist Susannah Marren has woven an intricate tapestry of secrets and foreboding.

The third volume in her trilogy about the Florida haunt for the wealthy and famous, Maribelle’s Shadow comes to life with biting dialogue and the inner monologues of three sisters who are at cross-purposes with each other and their elegant, imperialistic mother. The Barrows women just can’t shake their personas and the place they came from.

“While arriving in Palm Beach with an amorphous past was common,” Marren writes, “the revelation of a backwater story was not.” It is there, in that backwater story, that the truth about the Barrows begins. Their Florida Panhandle existence — ordinary lives launched into the stratosphere by a wildly successful chain of coffee shops — had been transformed Cinderella-like two decades earlier.

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Mysterious Death Shakes Family Secrets Loose
Sisters Maribelle, Caroline, and Raleigh would like to keep that story hidden. With their mother Lucinda, once a modest schoolteacher and now a showpiece, they have a lot on the line.

Outside their doors lies the Intracoastal Waterway with its docks, boats, and tropical gardens. Inside their homes, “vast decorated spaces,” the 30-ish sisters argue with their husbands, host parties, and cultivate their children. This is learned behavior that could be passed on for generations: “always rushing toward what’s next and better,” as Marren describes it.
Yet within the first 14 pages of Maribelle’s Shadow, the family’s veneer is ripped off. Back home from yoga, Mirabelle learns that Samuel, her philandering husband, is dead. Two hours earlier he had insisted on driving his speedboat to work. The sunny day suddenly turned stormy and somehow the expert pilot lost control.

As the Chief Financial Officer of the Barrows Corporation, Samuel had grown the company’s bottom line through business expansion and retail innovation. Working alongside his longtime friend and business partner, Caroline’s husband Travis, Samuel seemed devoted to Barrows. He even tolerated his intrusive mother-in-law.

However, much to the anger and puzzlement of Lucinda and the three sisters, it appears that Samuel absconded with several million of the company’s profits. In disbelief, Maribelle wishes that Samuel were alive to explain what happened even though she loathes him more each day he is gone. Meanwhile, Lucinda hires a forensic accountant to plumb the books.
Reflexively, Maribelle returns to her prestigious job, managing editor of PB Confidential, a glossy magazine that is her baby. Here she can lose herself working with the staff writers and Holly, the publisher, as they continually tinker with content and design.

But during lunch at the Breakers with Holly, Maribelle is shocked to learn that a decision has been made to move the magazine entirely online. That is not all. Holly confides an important fact about PB Confidential. Suffice it to say that this revelation creates in Maribelle a sensation “somewhere between shortness of breath and someone stomping on her heart,” Marren writes.

Well-Plotted With a Keen Eye for Detail
Among the joys of Susannah Marren’s novels is her eye for detail. “Cantaloupe leather bar stools and cognac wood accents” and “the ice grey rooms that led into one another” immediately transport the reader to the homogenous interiors inhabited by—what can one say? —the insincere socialites she portrays so well.

Marren captures equally well the world outside those rooms: the blues and greys of the ocean and sky, the churning waves and rustling banyan trees; everything dependent on quicksilver weather. This affinity with Palm Beach is akin to Joan Didion’s romance with California, her evocation of the Santa Ana winds and the arrival of rain in “a place in which a boom mentality and a sense of Chekhovian loss meet in uneasy suspension.”
Maribelle’s Shadow is a beautiful, unforgettable book.

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