Rosalyn Harmon Justice is the perfect wife. She is aristocratic in appearance and attitude. The women of Atlanta’s high society envy her for everything that she has: her refined beauty and cool grace, her family and her friends, and her incredible estate, Moonrise, located in Highlands, North Carolina. When the Victorian home was passed down to Rosalyn through her mother, she spent her summers at Moonrise obsessively – not to mention single-handedly – maintaining its historical authenticity and its splendid moon garden. She was an exemplary woman. Everyone in Rosalyn’s life loved her dearly.
So how can Helen Honeycutt ever try to replace her?
Helen Honeycutt is a divorcée and dietician who recently landed a segment as a TV cook at a news station in Fort Lauderdale. She comes from humble, blue collar origins. The last thing she expected was to become involved with newly widowed Emmet Justice. After his wife Rosalyn’s shocking car accident, Emmet left his anchor position at CNN in Atlanta and relocated to the small-time Fort Lauderdale news station, much to the chagrin of his closest friends. Justice’s esteemed reputation as a TV journalist precedes him. He intimidates most of the employees with his caustic wit and air of gruff authority.
Despite their differences, Helen and Emmet fall in love and marry after only four months of courtship. Their marriage occurs not even a year after Rosalyn’s passing, and Emmet’s core group of friends deem the union in poor taste. Yet the newlyweds seem happy. That is, until Helen discovers Rosalyn’s partially filled scrapbook. Once she pours over the photos and examines the former Mrs. Justice with a magnifying glass, Helen’s imagination goes wild. The disparity between Rosalyn and herself intrigues Helen, of course; Emmet describes Rosalyn as “delicate” and Helen as “earthy.” And she fantasizes about Rosalyn and Emmet’s sophisticated friends: Kit Rutherford, Tansy Dunwoody, Noel Clements, and Dr. Linc and Myna Varner. But what really grabs Helen’s attention is Moonrise. She demands, uncharacteristically, that she and Emmet spend the summer at Moonrise. After Helen’s entreaties wear him down, Emmet concedes.
But Helen regrets her insistence almost immediately after she and Emmet arrive. When she comes face-to-face with a portrait of Rosalyn in all of her patrician, Nordic beauty, Helen feels gauche and self-conscious. As if the veneer of Rosalyn’s perfection wasn’t enough to rip off the lid on all of Helen’s insecurities, Rosalyn and Emmet’s group of close friends are poised to dislike Helen. They are baffled that Emmet replaced Rosalyn so abruptly after her accident, and with Helen of all women. Comparatively, the men are more charming to Helen. The women are ready to rip “the Bride,” as they call Helen, to shreds with catty comments and gossip. Piled on top of the stress of ostracization, Helen struggles to sleep. Moonrise frightens her. At night she hears voices and sleeps fitfully. Helen finds that she must exhaust herself, staying up late working on a healthy eating cookbook, before she can fall asleep. With all of this pressure, Helen is nervous and anxious, which drives her to reckless decisions. The memory and mystery of Rosalyn’s death, plus a few nasty tricks played by Kit and Tansy, just might be Emmet and Helen’s undoing.
If novelist Cassandra King’s Moonrise bears a striking resemblance to Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, that’s because the book is directly inspired by the classic Gothic tale. King explains on the dust jacket that she brought a copy of Rebecca with her while vacationing in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She and her husband, novelist Pat Conroy, rented a summer home in the mountains and Moonrise was inspired by reading DuMaurier’s classic and roaming the gardens of their rented house. King uses a split first-person perspective so that the story is told through Helen, Willa (Moonrise’s housekeeper), and Tansy’s eyes, which succeeds in building upon the atmosphere of gossip and duplicity. At first the Southern Gothic feels supernatural with its shadowy hints of the spectral. By the book’s conclusion, however, the surprising revelation is quite grounded in its secular motivations of covetous and vile human desire.
Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.