Her latest involves three generations. Maisie, a lively 80, is shacking up with a man 15 years younger. Her daughter Liz has a marriage that has gone off-track and a job at My Sister’s House, also the name of a real-life Charleston nonprofit that assists victims of domestic violence. Liz’s daughter Ashley, 23, is a struggling artist who becomes involved with a state senator not everyone trusts.
Frank affectionately brings the South Carolina coast to life, lacing her story with familiar humor and images of shrimp boats, palmetto trees, Confederate jasmine, crab cakes and corn fritters.
“I could feel my heart clench from the landscape’s unforgivable beauty,” says Liz, heading to Sullivan’s Island from nearby Charleston and sounding a lot like Dottie Frank, who grew up on the island.
Frank also weaves in a serious subplot and real domestic violence statistics, including the fact that 36,000 complaints are filed every year in South Carolina and that, per capita, more women are killed by men there than in any other state.
“This is a plague, sweetie,” Liz says to a guest who’s come to dinner to learn more about the issue. “It’s a bona fide plague.”
That’s Frank’s view as well.
Domestic violence “is weighing heavy on my heart,” she said in an interview. “I feel we have got to tackle this problem, and now.”
Her concern has already drawn response. Victims have appeared at some of her first book events, “telling their stories; they have had us in tears,” Frank said.
Frank is headed to Atlanta for three events. Here are highlights from a recent interview:
Q: I kept waiting for the big storm to hit. Was "The Hurricane Sisters" your title from the start?
A: Yes. And it's hurricane season, but I always saw the hurricane just as much as internal. The main characters are in turmoil — all of them in some sort of denial and all of them thinking they know best for each other.
Q: The heroines in "Hurricane Sisters" don't seem to be the same sort of traditional Southern belles you wrote about early on.
A: The polite Southern gal doesn't have much of a chance these days. Everything is changed. It is suddenly OK for everyone to be rude and crude and to say terrible things in traffic or to a waiter. I think the whole world has gone crazy. You have to wonder what has happened to people and their sense of decency.
Q: Years ago you vowed to write a best-seller so you could buy back your family home on Sullivan's Island. Did you do that?
A: No! I was never there at the right time at the right place with the right wallet. But we did just buy a house there on the harbor — a Civil War barracks that dates back to 1850. We'll be renovating it and moving back (from New Jersey) later this year. I'm so excited. It's probably good that we have our own house. It'll be our own vibe — not a long, mournful vibe from my childhood.
Q: You love Sullivan's Island so much because …
A: It might be the light, the way it smells, how sultry it is when it's humid or how bright the night sky is with all the stars. I feel like a young girl again when I'm there. I can't think of any place in this world I'd rather be.
Q: If you could spend a day on the beach with a book, what authors would you be reading?
A: Oh, so many. Sounds like heaven, but I've got a house to renovate and two to sell and a daughter's wedding to plan. But Pat Conroy, for sure. Josephine Humphreys, if she'll please just give us another book. Meg Wolitzer. And Lee Smith — I'm reading her new one, "Guests on Earth," now.
Q: Your roots are 165 years deep on Sullivan's Island and you've also been living in New Jersey. So you should know: Are people really nicer in the South?
A: No question about it. Even people who move from New Jersey and New York and Pennsylvania to the South become nicer!