Well, I'm seriously tempted to say Lolita, but as Nixon would say, "That would be wrong." The second-most obvious answer would be Robinson Crusoe, mainly so he'd do all the heavy lifting and making fires and getting the fresh water and -- important -- catching fish for supper. But the conversation might get boring after awhile, so I think I'll go with Magwitch, the escaped convict from Charles Dickens's "Great Expectations." He'd have some fantastic stories to tell, and, as we know, he knew his way around the seashore.
I'd spend the day with Mr. Darcy, from Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," naturally. Is there any other man who broods so masterfully in literature and who could benefit more from a spirited, lighthearted game of beach Frisbee? And of course, since we'd be on a beach together, I'd greatly enjoy seeing what's beneath that proper waistcoat of his.
John Wheelwright from "A Prayer For Owen Meany," by John Irving. I was crushed when Owen Meany died and, short of bringing him back, would like to hear that John, his friend and emotional beneficiary, has given lasting meaning to Owen's life. I wonder if the belief in God that Owen's death inspired has helped John believe in himself as well. A day at the beach would give us time to talk about that, perhaps give us both closure.
Give me Stephen Maturin of Patrick O'Brian's "Master and Commander." Titularly a naval surgeon (ca. 1800), he's also an intelligence agent and a natural philosopher with a mania for birds, fish, sloths, beetles and other fauna. We could have elevating conversations while turning over sea-wrack in search of sand fleas and nondescript copepods.
Quint from Peter Benchley's "Jaws." Why? There are two good reasons. One, I used to fish a lot when I was a kid, but I'm rusty, and two, my wife is always telling me to "butch it up a little." Quint, famous shark hunter, can get me reacquainted with the ins and outs of the fisherman's trade, and when I reel in a porgy, he can yell and cuss at me like I'm fighting with a great white.
The Wife of Bath from Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales." She's got moxie, knows how to "swynke it, swynke it," and she's English, so you can watch her crisp in the afternoon sun.
I should like to spend a day at the beach with Jake Barnes from "The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemingway. Firstly, Jake is tremendously laid back and cool with an inner sorrow, which would be good for a day, though tedious for too long. He can fish and he loves Nature, so I think we would have a reflective session perhaps from a small boat and then a barbecue of grilled fish and chunky bread. He is a virtuoso drinker, so I anticipate some chilled white to start and a strong red for the later evening. He just can't bring any of his dopey friends.
Almondine from "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle," by David Wroblewski. There's nothing finer than a day on the beach with a dog. Unfortunately, mine are too antisocial to take there when other people are about. Milo has the dreadful habit of lifting his leg on people's beach bags, while Shiloh barks with manic excitement. A well-trained, companionable dog such as Almondine would be a perfect companion, and I'd get to see what a Sawtelle dog looked like.
Captain Ahab, from "Moby-Dick," by Herman Melville. I am a terrible beach-o-phobe, tiptoeing into the surf clenched with certainty that I will soon be ray-stung or jelly-scorched. How reassuring then, if I must go to the beach, to be protected by an unwavering maniac, ready to kill anything that swims too close to me.
Esmé from "For Esmé -- with Love and Squalor" from J.D. Salinger's "Nine Stories." Who better than this smart, earnest, affecting yet accidentally hilarious British teen? I want an update. Afterwards, I'd be quoting her forever.
Emily Dickinson, the heroine of her own poetry ("Wild Nights!" and others). I just think she needs to get out of that cold dark house in Amherst and spend a sunny day at a beach where, I am pretty sure, she would slip into a two-piece and lie under a parasol and we'd have hot dogs and cold beers and talk and talk and talk.
The cool ocean waters of Cape Cod's Longnook Beach provide the perfect antidote to a scorching Alabama summer, so that's where I take young Scout Finch from Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird." We descend the dune, ride the waves and then walk along the water's edge, collecting shells and talking about our prospective eras: hers, in which a black man's guilt was a foregone conclusion even with Atticus as his lawyer; and mine, in which a black family now lives in the White House but millions of black folks still live in our country's prisons. We've come a way, Scout and I conclude, but have a way to go.
I would choose to spend my time with Preston Marsh, the anti-hero biker from Kem Nunn's classic surf/noir/coming-of-age novel, "Tapping the Source." Marsh's hard-won humanity and volatile nature would make for an interesting day at the beach. Frankie Avalon he's not.