Novelist weaves tale about single women in their 50s

Come summer, Dorothea Benton Frank’s many fans know to expect another slice-of-life tale set in South Carolina’s sultry Low country. They also know the heroine may find romance, even when her hair’s askew in that steaming climate.

One year ago, Frank blew into town with “The Hurricane Sisters,” which focused in part on three generations of women and the need to protect a longtime marriage.

Now, in her 16th novel, “All the Single Ladies,” the downright frank “call me Dottie” Frank zeroes in on friendship among middle-aged women.

“Listen, honey, at my age I’m not going to tell stories about what 20-year-olds are thinking,” says Frank, 63. “I want to touch upon things that women my age can relate to.”

The author of “Plantation,” “Pawley’s Island” and more now returns to her native Sullivan’s Island. At the center of “Single Ladies” is Lisa St. Clair, a 52-year-old nurse at the Palmetto House assisted living facility. Lisa put her daughter through college and now can barely make ends meet.

When a favorite patient succumbs to cancer, Lisa knows she will sorely miss Carrie and Suzanne, who had faithfully tended their friend’s bedside. But they aren’t about to let favorite nurse Lisa go; they’ve bonded over too many Krispy Kremes. The friendship circle also includes Suzanne’s “pistol” of a grandmother, Miss Trudie, once a popular Charleston chanteuse who at 99 “still has all her beans.”

Fans appreciate Dottie Frank’s beachy fiction because they can relate. It’s almost like you’ve got a pal named Dottie planted in your kitchen, shaking her head at the absurdities of life.

When Lisa sees an “ebullient child meteorologist” on TV, she wonders when it became OK to bear cleavage at 7:30 in the morning.

Frank will be in the metro area next week to discuss and sign “All the Single Ladies.” Here are more highlights from a recent interview.

Q: Did you set out to create a mix of characters so that almost any woman over 50 might find one she could relate to?

A: In a way, I did. Lisa is unsure of what she needs. She’s a giver, but she’s lonely. Suzanne claims that she doesn’t need anyone; she doesn’t trust love. Carrie is the romantic, in love with love, but men seem to slip through her fingers. Miss Trudie is the sentimentalist who is still young – as long as she doesn’t leave the house. But she’s the wise one.

Q: Why did you want to write about loneliness?

A: We need friends. And it is possible to make them later in life. And sometimes it is need that brings us together. As we age, kindness and generosity seem to matter more. Loneliness is terrible, and simple gestures can mean so much.

Q: What else did you want to explore about a woman’s middle-aged chapter?

A: I wanted to point out that nowadays there’s no cookie-cutter life for women who are my age. Maybe you don’t want to make a new life with another man at this stage, maybe you just really want to be single. Or maybe you’d like to buy a house with your girlfriends and enjoy that lifestyle.

Q: Your definition of a good friend?

A: A good friend will recognize that what you need is maybe not what she needs; she can recognize the difference. A good friend is just so easy to be with. If she’s hard to be with, she’s not a good friend.

Q: You dish out a lot of practical advice in your books. Since you’ve had a successful marriage for 33 years and counting, do you have advice for nurturing a marriage?

A: Well, one thing for sure is that you gotta lower your expectations. If you don’t expect too much, you’re not going to be disappointed.