Last Original Wife (Frank)

The Last Original Wife
Dorothea Benton Frank, 2013
352 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780062132468

Experience the sultry Southern atmosphere of Atlanta and the magic of the Carolina Lowcountry in this funny and poignant tale of one audacious woman’s quest to find the love she deserves, from New York Times bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank.

Leslie Anne Greene Carter is The Last Original Wife among her husband Wesley’s wildly successful Atlanta social set. His cronies have all traded in the mothers of their children they promised to love and cherish—’til death did them part—for tanned and toned young Barbie brides.

If losing the social life and close friends she adored wasn’t painful enough, a series of setbacks shake Les’s world and push her to the edge. She’s had enough of playing the good wife to a husband who thinks he’s doing her a favor by keeping her around. She’s not going to waste another minute on people she doesn’t care to know.

Now, she’s going to take some time for herself—in the familiar comforts and stunning beauty of Charleston, her beloved hometown. In her brother’s stately historic home, she’s going to reclaim the carefree girl who spent lazy summers sharing steamy kisses with her first love on Sullivans Island. Along Charleston’s live oak- and palmetto-lined cobblestone streets, under the Lowcountry’s dazzling blue sky, Les will indulge herself with icy cocktails, warm laughter, divine temptation and bittersweet memories. Daring to listen to her inner voice, she will realize what she wants...and find the life of which she’s always dreamed.

Told in the alternating voices of Les and Wes, The Last Original Wife is classic Dorothea Benton Frank: an intoxicating tale of family, friendship, self-discovery, and love, that is as salty as a Lowcountry breeze and as invigorating as a dip in Carolina waters on a sizzling summer day. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Sullivan's Island, North Carolina, USA
Education—Fashion Institute of America
Currently—lives in New Jersey and on Sullivan Island

An author who has helped to put the South Carolina Lowcountry on the literary map, Dorothea Benton Frank hasn't always lived near the ocean, but the Sullivan's Island native has a powerful sense of connection to her birthplace. Even after marrying a New Yorker and settling in New Jersey, she returned to South Carolina regularly for visits, until her mother died and she and her siblings had to sell their family home. "It was very upsetting," she told the Raleigh News & Observer. "Suddenly, I couldn't come back and walk into my mother's house. I was grieving."

After her mother's death, writing down her memories of home was a private, therapeutic act for Frank. But as her stack of computer printouts grew, she began to try to shape them into a novel. Eventually a friend introduced her to the novelist Fern Michaels, who helped her polish her manuscript and find an agent for it.

Published in 2000, Frank's first "Lowcountry tale," Sullivan's Island made it to the New York Times bestseller list. Its quirky characters and tangled family relationships drew comparisons to the works of fellow southerners Anne Rivers Siddons and Pat Conroy (both of whom have provided blurbs for Frank's books). But while Conroy's novels are heavily angst-ridden, Frank sweetens her dysfunctional family tea with humor and a gabby, just-between-us-girls tone. To her way of thinking, there's a gap between serious literary fiction and standard beach-blanket fare that needs to be filled.

"I don't always want to read serious fiction," Frank explained to The Sun News of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. "But when I read fiction that's not serious, I don't want to read brain candy. Entertain me, for God's sake." Since her debut, she has faithfully followed her own advice, entertaining thousands of readers with books Pat Conroy calls "hilarious and wise" and characters Booklist describes as "sassy and smart,."

These days, Frank has a house of her own on Sullivan's Island, where she spends part of each year. "The first thing I do when I get there is take a walk on the beach," she admits. Evidently, this transplanted Lowcountry gal is staying in touch with her soul.

From a Barnes & Noble interview:

• Before she started writing, Frank worked as a fashion buyer in New York City. She is also a nationally recognized volunteer fundraiser for the arts and education, and an advocate of literacy programs and women's issues.

• Her definition of a great beach read—"a fabulous story that sucks me in like a black hole and when it's over, it jettisons my bones across the galaxy with a hair on fire mission to convince everyone I know that they must read that book or they will die."

When asked about her favorite books, here is what she said:

After working your way through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jane Austen, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Flannery O'Connor, of course, you have to read Gone with the Wind a billion times, then [tackle these authors].

The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood; A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley; The Red Tent by Anita Diamant; Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler; Brunelleschi's Dome by Ross King; Making Waves and The Sunday Wife by Cassandra King; Islands by Anne Rivers Siddons; Rich in Love, Fireman's Fair, Dreams of Sleep, and Nowhere Else on Earth (all three) by Josephine Humphrey. (Author bio and interview from Barnes and Noble.)

Book Reviews
The last original wife of the title is Leslie Anne Greene, the lone remaining first spouse in her husband's circle of friends. It only takes a relatively minor accident to snap her to the realization that what had seemed like a singular mark of distinction had become over the span of years a hollow symbol. To retrieve and replenish her life, she retreats to the pristine sands of South Caroline's shores. There she finds more than she ever imagined. A classic summer vacation read from the inimitable Dorothea Benton Frank
Barnes & Noble Editors

Discussion Questions
1. Describe Leslie and Wesley. Who are they as people? Do they see each other for who they truly are? Do they like each other as people?

2. Why does Leslie call herself "the last original wife?" Is she proud of this designation? Does it propel her to continue her situation? What impact does her friends' divorces have on her own life and outlook?

3. Leslie tells the psychiatrist, Dr. Katz, "Wes's friends were married to girls who are young enough to be their daughters. I didn't want to spend every holiday and weekend for the rest of my life with a bunch of Barbies.... These insipid young women would never be my friends. Moreover, I didn't want them to be my friends." Even though she doesn't have much in common with these younger women, should Leslie have tried to give them a chance? Is being friendly with a new, younger wife a sign of disloyalty?

4. Leslie and Wes have two adult children. Talk about their relationship with their kids. What kind of parents are they? Did they raise their daughter and son well?

5. One of the most important people in Leslie's life is her brother, Harlan. Why did she allow herself to be separated from him for so long? What does Harlan bring to her life that is lacking in Atlanta?

6. What happens to Les emotionally when she heads to Charleston to see Harlan? Why is Charleston important to her?

7. While she's in Charleston, Leslie learns a great deal about Josephine Pinckney. How does Miss Pinckney inspire Leslie?

8. Being in Charleston, Les is reunited with her first love, Jonathan. Compare him with Wes. What does Jonathan provide Les that Wes does not? Do you think she and Jonathan will live happily ever after?

9. Wes and his friends are all in late middle age. Do you think that younger generations of men will be different? How does Wes see himself and his friends? Have their financial achievements given them a false sense of security about their lives? What do you think will happen to Wes?

10. If you've read other books by Dorothea Benton Frank, how does The Last Original Wife compare with them?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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