Winslow Birkel is in his late 20s and has been involved in an abusive relationship with Chad for the past few years. Winslow is in the process of breaking free from Chad’s abuse when he finds himself “transported” to Seaspray, a peaceful and quiet coastal town that seems idyllic, but not entirely real. While Winslow spends time in Seaspray, he begins to recall memories of his time with Chad and also a new acquaintance, Darryn, who seems to be a focus for hope and growth.
This story has multiple viewpoints, with Winslow, Darryn, Chad, and others who come and go from Seaspray in ways that help the reader learn what Seaspray represents. This isn’t a romance; it’s more a supernatural fiction story with romantic elements. Most of the story centers on Winslow as a character, but the main theme is the survival of domestic abuse and how domestic abuse is a cycle of violence that requires interruption for both victims and abusers to stop the cycle.
I loved that Seaspray was a mystery, in part, as Winslow’s story unfolded. It helped me to feel engaged with Winslow’s journey of self-discovery, to learn bit by bit how he got to Seaspray and how–and what it even meant—to leave it. Winslow needs to make sense of his life, and life choices, in order to break his cycle and live a full and fulfilling life. He needs to learn to love himself, and find himself worthy of love, if he wants to achieve the goal of personal happiness. I really don’t want to give away too much about the plot, but the sense of loss is strong, and lets the reader appreciate the stakes Winslow and Darryn face in their journeys; Winslow could lose his life, while Darryn could lose his place in the world. The resolution takes all the characters full circle, recognizing the harms incurred while taking new steps to disrupt the cycle and begin a new journey.
The ending is powerful and hopeful, with Winslow believing he’s on the path to find the happiness he trusts he truly deserves. It’s really sweet and in some ways bittersweet, considering the years and opportunities that were lost. I closed the story feeling really empowered to make powerful change work in my life, being open to what opportunities exist. Please be aware that there is on-page violence, and deep consideration of memories of abuse—incurred both as adults and as children.
I’m always struck by the depths that this author reaches within me as a reader through the struggles his characters confront and overcome. For me, it was uncomfortable in the moment, but I trusted the story (and the author) to pull me through those dark emotions and restore my balance with a new and deeper appreciation for the good parts of life, and a stronger sense of empathy for people in difficult positions. It’s hard to write a sympathetic abuser, but Reed does it without compromising the emotional balance for victims or creating a ‘savior’ complex for people who help them. Reed doesn’t create a caricatured experience, instead investing in characters’ humanity—for good or bad. It’s a powerful gift in this story because readers can’t simply discount antagonists as wholly evil. I didn’t know how much I’d love this story until I’d reached the last page. Definitely recommend.