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Replete with at least two dozen characters, Beach Music challenges the reader to keep up with the role of each one. Jack McCall, narrator and protagonist from South Carolina, flees to Italy with daughter Leah following a custody battle with his in-laws. Devastated by the suicide of his wife, Shyla, who jumped from a South Carolina bridge, he chooses to live in Italy, a country containing only low bridges. A cookbook and travel writer, McCall attempts an escape from his past which includes an alcoholic father and a smiling liar of a mother. He never wants to think about his extended family again, or about the treachery of one particular friend which led to the supposed suicide of another. Jack considers himself a cold person, unable to love in the way he should, and he carries a guilt regarding his wife's suicide which he cannot release. His daughter Leah provides his only emotional sustenance while he lives away from home in Italy. Only Jack and Shyla knew of his best friend Jordan's existence following a faked suicide. Jack aids Jordan's escape after he executes an explosion accidentally killing two people. As the secluded life Jack has constructed for himself and his daughter unravels, Jack must face the reality of his past. Filled with hatred toward people who have contributed to his misery, he struggles to find meaning in past events which have haunted him for years. Eventually Jack returns home to South Carolina to face his past and his former best friends, as well as the impending death of his mother. Jack is persuaded to join Ledare in constructing his own past, along with that of his friends and family, as they write a television miniseries based upon their lives for the now-famous producer Mike Hess, a high school friend. Still filled with hostility toward Shyla's parents for their frantic attempts to remove custody of Leah following Shyla's suicide, Jack must find a way to integrate his daughter back into her grandparents' lives. An even larger task is the handling of his alcoholic father who remains constantly drunk following Jack's mother's remarriage. Shyla Fox is Jack's wife who has already committed suicide when the book opens. The reader learns of Shyla's past through the dialogue of other characters and through flashbacks. The Jewish daughter of two Holocaust victims, Shyla is known for her beauty and her intelligence. She grows up in the house next to Jack, and they become fast friends in childhood. Following her involvement in the protests of the Vietnam War, Shyla joins Jack to hide their mutual friend Jordan following his accidental killing of two people. She and Jack fall in love, marry, and have a daughter named Leah. Jack is left to wonder about Shyla's reasons for committing suicide, and her death begins his life outside of his native South Carolina. Shyla's final words, "the lady of the coins," become part of the mystery surrounding Shyla's death which Jack hopes to solve. Although not alive during the contemporary actions in the novel, Shyla acts as a catalyst, drawing Jack to South Carolina and the scene of their romance and her eventual death.

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Ledare Ansley, while a member of Jack's childhood friends and a one time girlfriend, remains the only character not involved in the public reaction to the Vietnam War. As such, she becomes an objective point of view for what actually happened with her friends during those trying years. A romance and screen writer, Ledare reunites with Jack in Italy at the request of their mutual friend Mike Hess, who wants Ledare and Jack to write a miniseries about their childhood experiences. She had dated Jack in the past, but as a socialite whose name had long been important in the South, she ended up dropping Jack and eventually marries, then divorces, Capers Middleton. Her uniting with Jack in his contempt for Capers gives them a common ground, allowing the development of an...

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