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Pawleys Island Reader’s Guide

By Dorothea Benton Frank

Pawleys Island by Dorothea Benton Frank


Questions and Topics for Discussion

Catapulted from her home, her marriage and her children, artist Rebecca Simms has come to Pawleys Island to hide herself from herself. Little does she know that on this “arrogantly shabby” family playground, she’ll encounter three people who will change her life: a wise and irresistible octogenarian who will pry her secrets from her, a gallery owner who caters to interior decorators and heaven save us, tourists, and a retired attorney from Columbia who’s complacent in her fat and sassy life until Rebecca’s stormy advent. With characteristic humor and a full cast of eccentric and wonderfully lovable characters, Dorothea Benton Frank brings us a refreshingly honest and funny novel about friendship, family, and finding happiness by becoming who you are meant to be…



The sands of Sullivan’s Island follow me everywhere. No matter where I have traveled, worked or lived, I am only and always a woman whose home place is the beach. Growing up there gave me lots of time to dream – to dream of what my life would become. And writing this book gave me lots of time to remember. One of my happiest summer memories – besides digging holes to China and sliding down the hill fort – is of the Bookmobile. This old clanker of a bus/van would stop in front of my momma’s house and I would run for my fortnightly dose of juvenile literature. Three books under my arm, I’d dive into our hammock and finish them all in one day without moving. Then I’d have to wait thirteen days until the Bookmobile returned. Waiting became a theme in my life – waiting for more books, waiting to be old enough to do this or that, for life to give me permission to pursue my dreams, for a million things. I’ll probably never develop the virtue of patience, so waiting is my cross. It should be the worst thing I have ever had to bear.

Unlike my sister Lynn, I was a terrible student. Around my twelfth year, I stopped studying in school. I was the classic case of wanting to be cool, the Saving Ophelia Syndrome, rebelling against everything and a whole long list of pathetic excuses. I only reveal this now to let you know that where you start seldom has anything to do with where you land. Life is not like the trajectory of a bullet. I never stopped reading and I never stopped working. Both of these I do with frightening vigor. I managed to graduate from a fashion school on sheer luck and worked on Seventh Avenue for years. I took what skills I had used there into the world of volunteerism for a few more years, raising money for the arts and education.

That vigor is the thirst I could never quench, and the harsh realities of the business world and volunteer fundraising made me understand just how critical a complete education is. But love of words (and my compulsion to be understood) is what made this miracle of becoming a published author come true. So now I’d like to do something for other women who for whatever reason didn’t get the educational experience they longed for and who can’t find the courage to change their lives. And, needless to say, I’d like to do something for women and children without hope, who don’t dream. Please take a moment to visit the Foundation link and share your thoughts.

So what else? I am ecstatically happy with my delicious husband Peter, and adore my two children, Victoria and William down to their last freckles. I have two Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Henry and Buster who are as cute as cookies. I play awful tennis, cheat at cards to make my children laugh, speak emergency French and Italian – lots of gesturing, love to cook and entertain. I also garden like mad, still love to visit Sullivan’s Island as often as possible, and am always looking for an adventure. I still read like a lunatic – favorite authors are the ones I shamelessly tortured to give me endorsements for my book – John Berendt, Pat Conroy, Bret Lott, Fern Michaels, and Ann Rivers Siddons. I’m always on a diet and admit to being slightly neurotic. If I could have anything in the world, it would be to pick up my entire life and drop it on the beach at Sullivan’s Island. Writing is the next best thing.


  • Abigail is a confident, independent, educated woman, but she is also extremely hard on herself at times. What does she want to change about her life?
  • Why do Abigail and Huey decide to help Rebecca?
  • Although the story is mainly told through Abigail’s eyes, some chapters are shown through other points of view. Why might the author have chosen to reveal some of Rebecca’s past, including her abandonment, through Miss Olivia’s perspective? What is revealed about Rebecca’s attitude toward Abigail when we see things from her view, especially in the early chapters?
  • At first Rebecca is less than comfortable with the idea of Abigail taking over her case. What leads to her change of heart?
  • During her preparations for the trial, Abigail feels like she has stepped into the past while Rebecca is clearly moving forward. Is she merely referring to her reprise as a divorce lawyer, or is there more to it than that?
  • Discuss Rebecca’s mild abuse of pharmaceuticals and alcohol. How did this affect your opinion of her, if at all?
  • How do issues of socioeconomic power factor into the characters’ motivations? Do you think things would have turned out differently if Rebecca had been hired at the local dry cleaner’s instead of Huey’s gallery?
  • Shortly after she finds out about Charlene, Rebecca muses that she could have understood Nat’s infidelity if he’d left her for someone beautiful and aristocratic. Is there any validity to that line of reasoning? How does it speak to her self-esteem?
  • On the surface, Abigail and Rebecca appear to be very different, but they share similar insecurities. How do they help each other?
  • Discuss Charlene. Do you think she is a victim of circumstance or a ruthless home wrecker? Perhaps a little of both?
  • What does it take for Abigail to finally forgive herself for her son’s death?
  • The idea of having secrets—and maintaining protective illusions—is a major theme of Pawleys Island. Abigail hides the crippling guilt she feels about her empty marriage and the death of her son, Rebecca retreats to Pawleys Island to escape public scrutiny of her divorce (or so she thought), and Huey’s lover hides his true identity from Miss Olivia. Discuss how each character liberates him/herself.
  • What is Abigail’s philosophy on finding love later in life?
  • The subject of the poem in the beginning of Pawleys Island is the idea that a place can absorb one’s “unbearable secrets.” Do you think this is true? Do you have an equivalent of Pawley’s Island in your life? How can such places be both a sanctuary and a crucible for change?
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