Suzanne Goodwyn brings romance to ‘Wrightsville Beach’ in new novel

Nicholas Sparks gets some competition with “Wrightsville Beach,” Suzanne Goodwyn’s debut novel about romance in Wilmington and its vicinity.

One of the lead characters is Hank Atwater. a tall, handsome surfer. Hank went into an alcoholic tailspin after his older brother died. He was just 18 at the time, but since Hank was 6-foot-4, he seldom got carded.

Then a drunken bar fight got Hank a criminal conviction. Now he’s stuck in a dead-end delivery job.

Things look up when Hank meets Jess Wade, a waitress at the Causeway Cafe (a popular, real-life Wrightsville Beach restaurant that closed in 2019).

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A marine biology student at UNCW, Jess has a dark side of her own, but she and Hank bond almost immediately. He teaches her to surf; she tells him about her beloved sea turtles. (Naturally, she’s an intern at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, another real-life area institution, albeit in Topsail Beach.)

It looks like the love of a lifetime, but all loves hit rocky patches. Jess heads to Florida to specialize in sea turtle studies. Hank, meanwhile, is snared by Alanna, an entitled deb from a wealthy Wilmington family, who calls him “Henry.”

Is that the end of the story? If you think so, you haven’t read many romance novels.

Suzanne Goodwyn is the author of a new novel set at Wrightsville Beach.

Goodwyn, a practicing lawyer, lives in Virginia, but she knows the territory. Her mother de ella lived in the area for many years, and she and her family de ella are regular summer visitors. Besides Causeway Cafe, a number of other local landmarks — The Blockade Runner, Thalian Hall, Johnnie Mercers Pier and the Trolly Stop hot dog shop — make their way into the story.

But after “Message in a Bottle,” “Dear John” and “Safe Haven,” a novel set on the Lower Cape Fear is no longer a novelty.

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Goodwyn is a novice writer, and it shows. Dialogue is not her strong suit of her; her characters’ quotes often sound as if they were translated from some foreign language by a C student. A really good editor could have shown her how to cut her 470-page narrative by one-fourth, or even one-third, without losing any of the story.

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