Beyond the Moonlit Sea by Julianne MacLean
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A fantastic story spanning thirty years of secrets. love, and loss.
1990: Olivia Hamilton's husband, Dean, a private pilot, disappeared one night, plane and all, on his way back to Miami as he flew through the notorious Bermuda Triangle. No trace was ever found, no explanation ever forthcoming, and he was finally deemed lost at sea and a death certificate issued. But the uncertainty, the not knowing, continued to haunt Olivia for the rest of her days.
1986: Up-and-coming particle physicist Melanie Brown was successfully navigating her Ph.D. program at Columbia and working on a groundbreaking dissertation on the mysterious Bermuda Triangle when her mother was tragically killed during a tornado back home in Oklahoma. Guilt, self-doubt, memories of a poor childhood, and the impact of her past, along with liberal amounts of alcohol, lands Melanie in dangerous territory, mentally and emotionally, and her committee chair recommends she get some professional help. But a forbidden relationship with her therapist sends her spirally out of control.
2017: An inevitable discovery and technological advancements link these two women together and focus attention once again on Dean's long-ago disappearance.
What an incredibly compelling story! I was immediately invested in the lives of these three people, Olivia, Dean, and Melanie. They were bound together by the past and secrets built upon secrets, with the Bermuda Triangle's tantalizing reputation looming over it all. I was completely absorbed in getting to the bottom of the unexplained mystery of Dean's disappearance.
Olivia begins the story upbeat and optimistic and remains until the end, even when her world is falling apart. When she becomes absorbed in her own search for answers, she maintains enough clear-headedness to know when to move on and live life again. I loved how she realized she'd treated her former boyfriend poorly and took great pains to avoid doing it again, consciously opening up to him about her thoughts and fears regarding Dean. I loved her honorableness, and I loved their relationship.
As for Dean and Melanie, both were deeply damaged from their childhoods. He was doing pretty well but couldn't let go of the past, continuing to hide his background from everyone. But the effect of this was so subtly revealed that even with his voice delivering part of the story's narrative, I was surprised by his decisions.
Melanie's gradual collapse was much more apparent. We have her voice as well as Dean's, providing a running commentary of her mental state. She seems like such a nice, intelligent, and engaging young woman until the therapy and her past take their toll.
I enjoyed how the author used the two timelines to set up the starting points for the book and advanced the story over a 30-plus-year timeframe. I appreciated the story's development of Olivia's two marriages and the feeling of her life moving forward normally and successfully after losing Dean. The Olivia that opens the book is essentially the same Olivia at the end but with the wisdom of a life well-lived. I couldn't have asked for a better resolution to this book either.
I wholeheartedly recommend BEYOND THE MOONLIT SEA to readers who have read and enjoyed this author's previous work and those who like general fiction with dual timelines and a setting from the 1980s to the late 2010s.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author.