By Sharon Geltner
Maribelle is the eldest of three rich and beautiful sisters, from a family that started poor east of Panama City and made a fortune with a nationwide chain of convenience stores. Then they moved to the Island.
Maribelle is also editorial director of Palm Beach Confidential magazine and gets invited to a lot of charity balls, fashion shows and lunches. Her handsome, charming husband is the highly paid CFO of the family business. Her mother calls the shots and wants the family origins kept secret. That’s why at a funeral, the country cousins are tucked in the back and ignored. Including one who shot off two toes when hunting geese.
Maribelle’s Shadow, Susannah Marren’s third novel about Palm Beach, is about secrets and sisters, either “devoted or divided.”
And those sisters’ “lavish existence of mansions, prestige, privilege and couture clothes” are at risk with a mysterious death in the family.” The book is filled with “Betrayal and lies … and what lurks beneath family loyalty.”
Things are not what they seem, which is why Maribelle doesn’t recognize some mourners at the funeral.
“…people whom [she] had never seen before, who were more Fort Lauderdale than Palm Beach. They were followed by Miami types — women in tight, low-cut tops and men in bracelets and a few necklaces as if they were headed to lounges and supper clubs, although it was midday.”
Lord knows what would have happened if the Boca contingent had shown up!
The author notes: “Wherever you are, society will judge you. What’s intriguing about Palm Beach is that it’s opulent and beautiful and how quickly it all can unravel.”
Susannah Marren is the pen name for part-time Palm Beach resident Susan Shapiro Barash, whose parents had a home on the island. Today, she still has close friends here and is helping her brother find a home in West Palm Beach or the island.
Barash is also the author of 13 non-fiction books, about infidelity, mothers and daughters and sisters, and taught gender studies for 23 years at Marymount Manhattan College. She is now a full-time writer, has appeared on Jo Piazza’s podcast and drafts proposals for new non-fiction books.
Maribelle’s Shadow shows that Barash has greatly improved as a novelist. She made the plot more complicated, added some mystery, isn’t afraid of humor and is no longer deferential in describing elite and vainglorious Palm Beach. Her latest book is much more fun and satisfying to read than the first two, A Palm Beach Wife and A Palm Beach Scandal.
While those books were vague about various island locations, this book is delightfully specific from an insider viewpoint. For instance, when Maribelle’s rich family wants cheap, but perky and classy labor, it shrewdly hires an intern from Palm Beach Atlantic University.
More intriguing tidbits: Maribelle’s mother is not “overly stingy; she was selective. Her donations went to causes that fueled her status. [She] chose whatever promoted the family and positioned them in society. “
Sound familiar? Then how about this cocktail party scene:
“No one had approached the food while the crowd at the bar was limitless, guests were three deep.”
Maribelle’s husband describes some island philanthropists in a way that will ring a bell. “What a committee — old biddies, a group of spoiled young mothers. The men who write the checks are caged animals.”
And about her spouse, “While in private he might have been cynical about the people in Palm Beach, in public he offered himself as [a true friend.] Maribelle was about to get the polished version of her husband.”
There is one fly in the La Prairie ointment and that is the book’s cover. Barash has improved so much as a fiction writer, but the jacket design is poor, offering few hints as to what the book is about.
The first two Palm Beach novels were pale pink and mint green perfection. This cover is 14 shades of gray with a woman whose back is turned. She stares out to sea under storm clouds.
There is a juicy subtitle, seething with resentment and disapproval, “Sisters Shouldn’t Be Playing These Games.” Whatever the reason (or budget), the book’s appearance is a disservice to the author.
Maribelle’s Shadow, by Susannah Marren, Beaufort Books, 303 pp., $16.95
Sharon Geltner is the author of Charity Bashed, a Palm Beach mystery and social satire, available on Amazon.
Susannah Marren has scheduled four local appearances this coming season to promote her novel:
November 15, 2 pm., Hagen Ranch Library, Delray Beach.
November 17, Noon–1 pm. Mandel Public Library, West Palm Beach
January 25, 2024, 7:30 pm–8:30 pm., So Booked Up Book Club, 335 Capone Speakeasy, West Palm Beach
February 12, 2–3 pm. West Boynton Beach Library, Boynton Beach.