Culturephile: ‘Montauk’ Captures Seductive Glamour of East Coast High Society in 1930s

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Photo credit: Bob Hodson

 

An alumna of Irvine’s University High, Harrison recounts a momentous summer season in a beach resort town for her heroine, Beatrice Bordeaux, a young woman floundering in a troubled marriage to a wealthy New York businessman in this book. Harrison, who moved to Manhattan and carved out a career as a fashion writer, uses her eye for style and her love of Montauk to bring a glittering pre-war world to life.

ORANGE COUNTY YEARS
I grew up in England until I was 14, when we moved to Irvine with my dad’s job. We were supposed to move back to England after four years, but we never did. We loved Orange County. One of the changes for me was the outdoor lifestyle. Everyone was so into sports and going to the beach. I loved that. I had always been dance-oriented, and the closest thing I could find to that (in school) was cheerleading. So here I was, this English girl who knew nothing about American football, and I joined the cheerleading squad.

MONTAUK AS A SETTING
Montauk is at the very end of Long Island. It’s always been a sleepy little fishing community. I used to have a weekend house out there. I’ve seen this town that I love so much change over the past 10 years. It’s become more of a popular destination; and as things become more popular, they change. I was nostalgic for the way it used to be and wanted to find out how it was back in the ’30s.

DRAWING ON PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
As far as the inspiration for Beatrice, it’s all fictional and crafted in my imagination; however, there are parts that I can relate to. I went through a divorce. And, like her, I have also experienced a loss. I lost my brother in a car accident when I was 18 and living in Orange County. I certainly tapped into that feeling of losing someone you love.

RESEARCHING A HISTORICAL NOVEL
I did a lot of research with newspapers and I read a lot of books at the Montauk library. One of my favorite parts of research was interviewing some of the locals. One gentleman in his 90s told me that when the summer visitors first started to come, (local kids) would be the entertainment to make a few bucks. They’d go to the yacht club and tie each other up in potato sacks and throw each other into the deep end of the pool. They’d be timed to see how long it took them to come to the surface—a bit dangerous! You can read a book, you can read articles, but it’s nothing like asking people what it was like.

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